Category Archives: Regional and local elections

Guest Post: Italy (Regional and municipal) 2015

As a follow-up to his preview of the Italian regional and local elections (May 31, 2015), here is a guest post from Giovanni Rettore detailing the results of the regional and municipal elections, including municipal runoffs held recently.

As written in my post last month, Italy went to the polls to elect seven governors and regional councils and several mayors and municipal councils. The results of the regional elections have been somewhat mixed, and local issues, which influenced heavily some outcomes, make it difficult to establish a national trend. Although Renzi and his party certainly didn’t perform very well, they didn’t perform awfully bad. It’s a setback from last year’s incredible result at the European elections, but it’s not even a disastrous defeat. As for oppositions, the 5 Star Movement performed so and so, while on the right of the political spectrum, the Northern League emerged as a clear winner, while Forza Italia collapsed. I’ll try to give readers a quick resumé of the seven regional races and try to trace an outcome. There’s however a certainty among the doubts, the turnout was extremely low. Only 52.2% of eligible voters showed up to the polls, a 10 points decline from the 2010 elections. Probably a sign of the electorate’s tiredness with the ongoing scandals that marks the Italian political system, and the inability of the political class to face the severe economic crisis and the rising unemployment. The fact that almost half of eligible voters chose not to vote is a worrying sign for Italy’s fragile political system.

To analyze the results I think that the comparison should be done with last years European elections. I know many will point that comparing those results with last year’s European elections, and not to previous regional election is incorrect, due to local issues and candidates strength (or weakness) influencing the outcome. It’s a fair argument, I recognize. But five years ago the national mood and political climate was completely different. Five years ago Berlusconi was still Prime Minister and his approval ratings were still decent averaging around 40-45%, the League had half of the votes it has now, the 5 Star Movement was still a fringe party with around 3% of national voting intentions, Monti was an obscure technocrat unknown to 99% of Italians, Renzi was a little known mayor of Florence and the economic crisis wasn’t as harsh as today, with unemployment five points lower than current data. So comparing with a regional election held under a completely different political and economical contest will likely led to incorrect conclusions, in my opinion. Although I’m open to critics on this point.

Regional elections

Campania

Governor

Vincenzo De Luca (PD, UDC, Others) 41.2%
Stefano Caldoro (FI, NCD, FDI, Others) 38.4%
Valeria Ciarambino (M5S) 17.5%
Salvatore Vozza (Far-left) 2.2%
Marco Esposito (Indipendent) 0.7%

Regional Council

De Luca’s Coalition 40.4%
PD 19.5% winning 15 seats
De Luca’s List 4.9% winning 4 seats
UDC 2.4% winning 2 seats
Others 13.6% winning 9 seats

Caldoro’s Coalition 39.9%
FI 17.8% winning 7 seats
Caldoro’s List 7.2% winning 2 seats
NCD 5.9% winning 1 seat
FDI 5.5% winning 2 seats
Others 3.5%

5 Star Movement (Ciarambino) 17.0% winning 7 seats
Sinistra al Lavoro (Vozza) 2.3%
Campania Civic List (Esposito) 0.6%

Turnout 51.9% (-11.1%)

Campania was the closest among the seven regions voting on Sunday. Former mayor of Salerno Vincenzo De Luca won a tight rematch against incumbent governor Stefano Caldoro. Doing so, De Luca had to ally with the Union of the Centre, led in the region by old Christian Democrat crook Ciriaco De Mita, and with supporters of former state secretary Nicola Cosentino, a former Forza Italia member now serving in jail. Due to his alliance with an old Christian Democrat crook and a former Berlusconi state secretary who is now a convicted felon, De Luca has been heavily criticized by his own allies of the left-wing pole, leading the far left to break with the Democratic Party and run their own candidate. De Luca himself was subject of controversies. A court declared him ineligible and now he will likely be forced out of office as soon as he is sworn in, unless the government will change the anti-corruption law that prevents convicted felons like De Luca to held elected offices.

The campaign has been afflicted by polemics surrounding the legal troubles of De Luca and councillor candidates of both left and right. Two days before the election the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission released a “blacklist” of unpresentable candidates running on party lists from both sides, due to their legal troubles and suspicious links with organized crime. The “blacklist” included De Luca himself.

This “blacklist” created vehement polemics inside the Democratic Party. The president of the Anti-Mafia Commission, Rosy Bindi, has been accused of using commission for political ends. Rosy Bindi has been one of the most notable vocal critics of Renzi, since the current Prime Minister started to raise his national profile.

Bindi and Renzi have a long history of feuds and mutual public offences. Renzi often targeted Bindi has one of the old PD politicians who should be dumped because of their ineffectiveness both while in government and opposition. Bindi vehemently answered to Renzi’s repeated offences accusing him of sexism.

Renzi’s loyalists accused Bindi of using her personal power as chairwoman of the commission to influence the outcome to lead to De Luca’s defeat thus giving herself and her faction within the party an excuse to overthrow Renzi in the wake of a defeat. Bindi responded to the accusation, pointing that all parties in the commission, including the PD, upheld her job and the decision of publishing the “blacklist” was unanimous. Maybe the “blacklist” contributed to the extremely low turnout, just 51.9% of eligible voters showed to the polling station, down 11% from five years ago

In spite of the polemics and his ineligibility, De Luca was able to win the election, avenging the defeat of five years ago. De Luca perform very strong in his home province of Salerno and in the province of Avellino, the historical stronghold of his ally De Mita. De Luca won Avellino and Salerno with almost twenty points margin. Additionally De Luca won Benevento province by a razor-thin margin. The victory of Caldoro in Naples province, the most populated of the five province, and in Caserta were not enough to overcome De Luca’s margin in the other three provinces.

However the issue of the eligibility of De Luca remains, and will likely spark a heated debate. If Renzi tries to change the Severino law, either in parliament or by decree, he will likely clash with the left-wing faction of his party, and encounter the furor of the opposition and public opinion.

As for parties’ performance, the PD performance was fairly mediocre compared to last year results. One year ago the PD obtained 35% of votes, while now the Democrats obtained less than 20%. Certainly the presence of almost ten lists in support of De Luca hurt the PD. As usual, civic lists behind gubernatorial candidates, drained votes from the biggest parties, leading them to mediocre results. Forza Italia performed better than in other regions, but still showed a decline from last year’s European elections, losing almost seven points. The New Centre Right (NCD) retained the result of last year, though, considering the fact that last year NCD ran a joint list with UDC, who now endorsed De Luca, its result might be considered moderately positive. The Brothers of Italy (FDI) performed moderately well, increasing their result from last year by 1.4%.

The 5 Star Movement performed so and so in the region. Something that might surprise due to the the polemics surrounding legal troubles of candidates, something that a staunch  anti-corruption movement should exploit in his advantage. However M5S fell by seven points from last year’s election. Though, as probably people will correctly point out, M5S has often troubles repeating national results in local contests, being a new party that lacks the territorial strength of its competitors.

The far left performed poorly, as they did nationwide, losing two points from last year’s election, where the “Other Europe” list obtained 4.1%

As I said in the preview, election in southern regions since the beginning of the so-called “Second Republic” have become increasingly unpredictable and linked to the consensus of powerful local bosses who swings from one party to another, depending on the national mood. In this particular case, De Mita and Cosentino have likely been the crucial factors in De Luca’s victory, helping him winning in Avellino (De Mita) and containing Caldoro’s margin in Caserta (home of Cosentino, where Caldoro’s margin over De Luca passed from 23 points of 2010 to just 4 points in 2015).

It’s a victory for the centre-left, but it’s not a victory I’d be proud of, honestly. And we’ll see if the citizens of Campania will be called again in dew months, due to De Luca’s conviction and ineligibility.

Veneto

Governor

Luca Zaia (LN; FI; FDI; Others) 50.1%
Alessandra Moretti (PD; SEL; Others) 22.7%
Jacopo Berti (M5S) 11.9%
Flavio Tosi (NCD; Others) 11.9%
Alessio Morosin (Venetian Independence) 2.5%
Laura Di Lucia Coletti (Other Veneto-Far Left) 0.9%

Regional Council

Zaia’s Coalition 52.2%
Zaia’s List 23.1% winning 13 seats
Northern League 17.8% winning 10 seats
Forza Italia 6.0% winning 3 seats
Noi Veneto (separatist) 2.7% winning 1 seat
Brothers of Italy 2.6% winning 1 seat

Moretti’s Coalition 23.4%
PD 16.7% winning 8 seats
Moretti’s List 3.8% winning 2 seats
The Greens-SEL 1.1%
Others 1.8% 1 seat

5 Star Movement (Berti) 10.4% winning 5 seats

Tosi’s Coalition 10.7%
Tosi’s List 5.7% winning 3 seats
New Centre Right 2.0% winning 1 seat
Others 3.0% winning 1 seat

Venetian Independence (Morosin) 2.5%
The Other Veneto (Di Lucia Coletti) 0.8%

Turnout 57.2% (-9.3%)

As I pointed out in the preview, Veneto had probably witnessed the most bizarre race of the cycle. Incumbent governor Zaia (Northern League) started has a heavy favourite, as a result of his high personal popularity and as his centre-left opponent, MEP Alessandra Moretti looking increasingly as something like a clownish candidate. Then in January a schism in the League led by Verona’s mayor Tosi, seemed to re-open the race, with Moretti benefitting from Tosi’s siphoning votes away from his former party mate. However, with Moretti’s enduring gaffes and Tosi’s campaign looking not strong enough to help Moretti pull the upset, Zaia took back the lead.

The final outcome was a Zaia landslide, similar to the one of five years ago. In 2010 Zaia won with a 60-29 margin over PD’s candidate Bortolussi, while now Zaia won with a 50-23 margin. So, despite everything that happened during the race, Zaia was able to win re-election with a huge margin, thanks mainly to his personal popularity and his opponent awful campaign. Although probably even the strongest potential candidate, like p.e. Vicenza’ mayor Achille Variati, would have been defeated by Zaia, Moretti’s campaign was a train-wreck from the beginning. If one year ago, in the wake of the European’s election result, that saw the PD winning almost 38% of votes, led leftist dreaming about a potential takeover of Italy’s most conservative region, this was a bad wake up. Not only did Zaia win a second term in spite of the Tosi schism, but Moretti’s result was catastrophic, even lower than the awful 29% the left-wing candidate took five years ago. Zaia also gained the notable result of being the lone gubernatorial candidate to win a majority of votes and not just a plurality in this election cycle. Turnout was the lowest ever, although Veneto still ranked as the region with highest turnout among the seven that voted a week ago, and the one where the growth of abstentions was low, although still impressive (-9.3%).

As for parties result, Zaia’s popularity have been likely confirmed by the success of his personal civic list. Zaia’s List won a plurality of votes, surpassing even Zaia’s party, the Northern League. Summed together, the League and Zaia’s list amassed more than 40% of votes, 5 points more than the League’s 2010 result, and 25 points more than the League result one year ago. Forza Italia however performed badly, winning just over 6% of votes, 18 points less than in 2010 (when it was named PDL) and almost nine points less than one year ago. The Brothers of Italy performance here was barely weaker than one year ago. Zaia geographically performed better in Treviso and Vicenza provinces. The weakest Zaia’s performance was in Verona province where Zaia won “only” 38% of votes. This result was mainly due to Tosi taking 27% of votes in his home province siphoning votes mainly from Zaia’s camp.

Moretti’s result, as mentioned, was catastrophic. Yet five years ago the 29% of Bortolussi was awful, her result was even worse. The PD, summed with Moretti’s personal list, only took 20.5% of votes, down 17 points from last year’s European election and equal of five years ago’s weak result. The joint list between what’s left of the Green Party, and the far-left “Left Ecology and Freedom” (SEL), barely won 1% of votes. Moretti’s best performance came in Belluno, where she won 28% of votes, while her worse performance was, ex-aequo in Vicenza and Treviso, where she only won 20% of votes. Worth noting that Vicenza is Moretti’s home province, and that until two years ago she was deputy-mayor of Vicenza. So, her weak performance in her home province highlight her weakness. Worth noting also that Zaia bested Moretti even in the city of Venice, with Zaia winning 43% to Moretti’s 31%. Five years ago Zaia lost Venice by one point, in spite winning the region by 31 points, now he won it by 12 points, marking the first time a conservative gubernatorial candidate has won in the region’s capital.

Jacopo Berti of the 5 Star Movement came distant third with almost 12% of popular votes. His result was 8 points lower than last year’s European election. His best performance was in Venice province, maybe as a result of the public opinion disgust for the “MOSE” scandal. His worse performance was in Treviso, home of Zaia, where he finished below the double digit threshold. As I said before, it’s hard to judge the M5S result in local elections, due to their lack of territorial rootage. In the specific case of Berti, the fact of being against someone like Zaia might have hurt him even more.

Tosi’s result was not very good. Despite being the region’s second most popular politician until few months ago, he finished distant fourth, not only behind Zaia and Moretti, but also behind the little known Berti. Tosi built around himself a coalition made by a series of civic lists, including his own personal list, and the centrist New Centre Right. Usually if a candidate outside the two main coalitions obtained almost 12% of votes in a regional election, this is saluted as a good result, but in this case it’s not, and possibly this slump marks the end of Tosi’s political career. Even more resounding, in his own city, Verona, Tosi came third behind both Zaia and Moretti, not a stunning result for someone who polls claimed to be “Italy’s most popular mayor”. Tosi strongest performance came in Verona’s province where he took 27% of votes, however his results outside his home province were far weaker. I honestly don’t know what political future Tosi might have. There were whispers that pointed towards a ministerial nomination in case he helped the left defeat Zaia. Those rumors were denied, and, in the wake of the outcome, they have no chance at all of becoming real. Tosi is now seen as a pariah by most conservative voters, who considered him a traitor and a sore loser, while, given his inability to siphon much votes away from Zaia, he is useless for the left. He will maybe follow the sad fate of all the “Third pole leaders” that preceded him, like Casini, Fini and Monti, and will quickly descend into irrelevance both nationally and locally. Once again the centrist dream of resuscitating the Christian Democracy has abruptly failed in the polling stations.

Apulia

Governor

Michele Emiliano (PD; UDC; SEL; Others) 47.1%
Antonella Laricchia (5 Star Movement) 18.4%
Francesco Schittuli (Fitto’s List; Brothers of Italy; New Centre Right) 18.3%
Adriana Poli Bortone (Forza Italia; Us with Salvini) 14.4%
Riccardo Rossi (The Other Apulia) 1.0%
Gregorio Mariggiò (The Greens) 0.5%
Michele Rizzi (Party of Communist Alternative) 0.3%

Regional Council

Emiliano’s Coalition 46.0%
PD 18.8% winning 14 seats
Emiliano’s List 9.3% winning 6 seats
Left Ecology and Freedom (SEL) 6.5% winning 4 seats
UDC 5.9% winning 3 seats
Others 5.5% winning 3 seats

5 Star Movement (Laricchia) 16.3% winning 7 seats

Schittulli’s Coalition 17.6%
Fitto’s List 9.3% winning 4 seats
New Centre Right 6.0% winning 4 seats
Brothers of Italy winning 2.3%

Poli Bortone’s Coalition 13.8%
Forza Italia 10.8% winning 6 seats
Us With Salvini 2.3%
Others 0.7%

The Other Apulia (Rossi) 0.9%
The Greens (Mariggiò) 0.4%
Party of Communist Alternative (Rizzi) 0.2%

As widely expected, former Bari mayor Michele Emiliano was easily elected as governor of Apulia, securing the region for the left for the third time in a row. Partially thanks to the right’s suicide, in presenting two different candidates, and partially to his own personal popularity, Emiliano won in a landslide in a region that the centre-right has always carried quite easily in parliamentary elections since the beginning of the so called second republic.

Despite the scandals that marked the second term of incumbent governor Vendola, Emiliano was able to win easily being personally not touched by Vendola’s troubles and his party’s poor performance. The PD performance in the region was actually not good, winning less than 19% of votes, down 15 points from last year’s European elections. Emiliano’s strongest performance came in the province of Foggia, where he took almost 52% of votes. His weakest, somewhat strangely, came in his home province of Bari where he took less than 45%.

Since anyone knew that Emiliano would have carried the region easily, the real reason for interest was who will be the runner-up. The 5 Star Movement flag bearer, Antonella La Ricchia was able to surpass both conservative candidates, earning the silver medal. Although the Movement result was more than eight points lower compared to last year’s result, it could be considered a positive result for grillinis, having surpassed two powerful conservative  local bosses. La Ricchia’s best performance came in Bari’s province, where she took 22% of votes, her weakest came in Brindisi, where she got only 14%.

Both conservative candidates performed poorly. It’s an easy guess that many conservative voters supported Emiliano, instead of Schittulli and Poli Bortone. Even summed, Schittulli and Poli Bortone would have taken less than 33% of votes, so even a united centre-right would have lost badly to Emiliano. Overall the conservative pole would have performed even worse than in last year European elections, where parties on the right of center obtained 35% of suffrages. In the conservative pole a reason of interest was how Salvini’s personal list will perform in a southern region. “Us with Salvini”, the League’s southern spinoff that supported Adriana Poli Bortone, obtained 2.3% of votes. Not enough to obtain seats in the regional council, but it was an interesting start. We’ll see how Salvini’s project to expand in the south will pursue.

As I said Apulia is a tricky region, it usually votes conservative when it comes to elect the national parliament, but in the last ten years has preferred to support left-wing governors and mayors, and seems willing to continue its awkward electoral behaviour.

Tuscany

Governor

Enrico Rossi (PD; Others) 48.0%
Claudio Borghi (Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 20.0%
Giacomo Giannarelli (5 Star Movement) 15.1%
Stefano Mugnai (Forza Italia; others) 9.1%
Tommaso Fattori (Far Left) 6.3%
Giovanni Lamioni (Centrist) 1.3%
Giovanni Chiurlì (Independent) 0.3%

Regional Council

Rossi’s Coalition 48.0%
PD 46.3% winning 24 Seats
Others 1.7%

Borghi’s Coalition 20.1%
Northern League 16.2% winning 6 seats
Brothers of Italy 3.9% winning 1 seat

5 Star Movement (Giannarelli) 15.1% winning 4 seats

Mugnai’s coalition 9.1%
Forza Italia 8.5% winning 2 seats
Others 0.6%

Yes Tuscany’s Left (Fattori) 6.3% winning 2 seats
Passion For Tuscany (NCD-Lamioni) 1.3%

Direct Democracy (Chiurlì) 0.3%

Tuscany, once again, has renewed its traditional loyalty to the left. In spite of the economic crisis and the scandals surrounding the regional banking system, which is heavily linked with local politics and with the PD, incumbent centre-left governor Enrico Rossi won handily.

The lone true chance to defeat Rossi was force him to a runoff, Tuscany being the lone region where a runoff is possible if no candidate reaches 40%. However Rossi was able to pass the threshold easily, winning 48% of votes. As I said in the preview, the true interest of this race was who will be the runner up. Claudio Borghi, of the Northern League came second with a strong performance, bringing his party to results that it had never even come close to achieving in this traditional left-wing stronghold. The PD suffered a 10 points loss from last year’s spectacular 56%, although the party’s margin over its opponents is still extremely comfortable. Rossi’s best performance came in the province of Siena, where he took more than 55% of votes. His weakest performance came in the province of Lucca, as usual the weakest province for the PD, where he obtained 41% of votes

Borghi performed better than expected, and better than the League has ever dreamed in this region, winning 20% of votes in the gubernatorial race and leading his party to an historic 16% of the vote. The League has become the region’s second largest party, and now is the main party on the right of centre in the region. Just one year ago the League only won 2.6% in the region. The Brothers of Italy, who endorsed Borghi slightly improved last year performance winning 3.9%, up 0.7% from the European election. Borghi’s best performances were in the provinces of Grosseto and Lucca, where he took 24% of votes. His weakest in the province of Florence where he took 16% of votes. Though he has been actually defeated, this result meant a lot for the League, who may finally start to make inroads in Central Italy. Borghi centred his campaign on the financial scandals in Monte dei Paschi and Bank of Etruria, which involved indirectly the Democratic Party.

Giannarelli’s performance was so and so. Due to the last year’s shocking victory in the town of Livorno, many expected M5S to perform well. Instead, as usual, the 5 Star Movement suffers a lot in local elections, due to their inability to run credible and competitive candidates. Given the scandals surrounding Monte dei Paschi and Bank of Etruria, you’d expect the Movement to take advantage, but instead Borghi was able to steal them the protest votes against the banking scandals. The Movement itself performed worse than last year’s European elections taking 1.7 point less than one year ago. However as in almost all regions, the inability of the Movement to run good candidates both for governor and regional council still hurts them. Giannarelli performed better in Livorno province, where the Movement governs the city of Livorno.

Forza Italia was perhaps the biggest loser in the region. The historical local boss of the party, Denis Verdini, has often been accused of having no interest in truly challenging the left hegemony in the region. Forza Italia’s candidate, a little known local politician, performed worse than expected, ending distant fourth. The party was doubled by the League in a region where usually the League performed weakly, down more than three points from last year’s yet weak result. Also extremely weak was the performance of the centrist candidate, Lamioni.

Liguria

Governor

Giovanni Toti (Northern League; Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy; New Centre Right) 34.4%
Raffaella Paita (PD) 27.8%
Alice Salvatori (5 Star Movement) 24.8%
Luca Pastorino (SEL; Others) 9.4%
Enrico Musso (Centrist) 1.6%
Matteo Piccardi (Party of Communist Workers) 0.8%
Antonio Bruno (Other Liguria) 0.7%
Mirella Batini (Feminist) 0.3%

Regional Council

Toti’s Coalition 37.8%
Northern League 20.3% winning 6 seats
Forza Italia 12.7% winning 8 seats
Brothers of Italy 3.1% winning 2 seats
New Centre Right 1.7%

Paita’s Coalition 30.3%
PD 25.6% winning 7 seats
Others 4.7%

5 Star Movement (Salvatori) 22.3% winning 6 seats

Pastorino’s Coalition 6.6%
Left Ecology and Freedom 4.1% winning 1 seat
Pastorino’s List 2.5%

Musso’s List 1.6%
Party of Communist Workers (Piccardi) 0.6%
The Other Liguria (Bruno) 0.7%
Sisterhood’s List (Batini) 0.2%

Liguria was considered the closest region by opinion polls, but it turned out that it was not that close actually. Conservative candidate Giovanni Toti eventually won easily, with a six points margin over center-left candidate Raffaella Paita. Paita’s performance was so awful that she risked ending third, even behind the grillini candidate, Alice Salvatori.

Paita’s defeat might be considered a severe blow to Renzi, since he heavily campaigned for her. Paita’s campaign was a train wreck since the beginning. She won the primary but was accused by her opponent in the primary of having bought votes from immigrants, causing a split in the centre-left. The runner up of the primary, Sergio Cofferati, left the party alongside several local members and built a coalition with minor left wing parties like Left Ecology and Freedom and the Communist Refoundation Party. The flag bearer of the “left of the left” coalition was Luca Pastorino, a dissident PD MP.

Then, a few weeks before the election Paita was charged for her role in the disastrous flood that last fall caused the death of a person and millions in damages in the region’s capital, Genoa. Being the regional minister of environment, Paita is accused of several heavy offences, including culprit in murder, culprit in disaster, attempted cover up and failure to properly alarm the citizens.

Paita’s indictment was the last nail in the coffin of an awful campaign in a region where the incumbent centre-left administration was extremely unpopular due to their inability of facing natural disasters in the last years. Though polls showed a tight race, conservative candidate, Forza Italia MEP Giovanni Toti, won with a comfortable margin.

Toti was able to reunite the centre-right, being endorsed by the four major right of centre parties: The League, Forza Italia, the Brothers of Italy and the New Centre Right. Although Salvini had to sacrifice its own candidate, Edoardo Rixi, he heavily campaigned on Toti’s behalf encouraging the League voters to support him. Salvini’s role in Toti’s victory is evident by the League’s great performance. The League won almost 20% of votes, an historical peak in the region and a result almost 15 points higher than last year’s European election, decisively helping Toti in his gubernatorial bid. Forza Italia’s result, despite being the governor’s party, was very poor, as was the performance of the New Centre Right.

The centre of the earthquake that led the centre-left losing one of his historical strongholds, was in city of Genoa, home of a third of the region’s population. In Genoa Paita’s result was catastrophic, finishing only third with just 24% of votes behing both Toti who won 28% and grillini Salvatori who carried the region’s capital with 30% of votes. Five years ago Burlando won the region’s capital with a 57-43 margin, helping him carry the region with a four points margin. Now Genoa, an historical stronghold of the Italian left has been crucial in the PD defeat.

Paita blamed Pastorino for her defeat, and in fact Paita’s and Pastorino’s votes summed are higher than Toti’s, however I wouldn’t be so sure that all of Pastorino’s voters would have chosen Paita. Many of them might have supported Salvatori instead of Paita. The PD performance was also awful. Renzi’s party won less than 26% of votes, down sixteen points from last year’s European elections.

The 5 Star Movement performed moderately well in the home region of his leader, Beppe Grillo. Probably, had Grillo chosen to run himself he would have a very serious chance of victory in a region where his party got 32% of votes in 2013 parliamentary elections, but Grillo is barred from running for electoral offices by the party’s statute. Salvatori was somewhat instrumental in Paita’s defeat, due to her good performance in Genoa, where she somewhat embodied the protest of Genoan citizens against the regional establishment.

Given the fact that both Salvini and Renzi heavily campaigned for their respective candidates, this might have been seen as a preview of the next parliamentary elections, and it was not a good preview for Renzi.

Marche

Governor

Luca Ceriscioli (PD; UDC; Others) 41.1%
Giovanni Maggi (5 Star Movement) 21.8%
Francesco Acquaroli (Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 19.0%
Gian Mario Spacca (Forza Italia; New Centre Right; Others) 14.2%
Edoardo Mentrasti (Far Left) 4.0%

Regional Council

Ceriscioli’s coalition 43.5%
PD 35.1% winning 16 seats
UDC 3.4% winning 1 seat
Others 5.0% 2 seats

5 Star Movement (Maggi) 18.9% winning 5 seats

Acquaroli’s coalition 19.5%
Northern League 13.0% winning 3 seats
Brothers of Italy 6.5% winning 1 seat

Spacca’s coalition 14.2%
Forza Italia 9.4% winning 2 seats
New Centre Right-Spacca’s list 4.0% winning 1 seat
Others 0.8%

The Other Marche-United Left (Mentrasti) 3.8%

As I wrote in the preview, Marche was home to what was probably the most awkward race of the cycle. Incumbent centre-left governor Gian Mario Spacca was barred by his party’s rules to run for a third term, despite the regional law allowing him to do so.

Spacca decided to split with his party and run as an independent. Forza Italia and the New Centre Right endorsed him, sensing an opportunity to pick the region from the left. However the Brothers of Italy and the League refused to endorse an incumbent governor they spent ten years opposing in regional council, and ran their own candidate, Francesco Acquaroli. The PD in coalition with what remains of the Union of the Centre and minor leftist movements supported Pesaro mayor Luca Ceriscioli, while the far left ran their own candidate Mentrasti.

Polls showed Ceriscioli running far ahead with Spacca and grillino Maggi running neck and neck for the second spot, while Acquaroli was running distant fourth. However the polling boxes revealed the catastrophic slump of Spacca’s candidacy.

The incumbent governor, was not only unable to siphon voters from his former party, but actually damaged the party that supported him (Forza Italia and the New Centre Right) that lost votes in favour of Acquaroli and his coalition (The League and the Brothers of Italy). Spacca ended distant fourth behind both Maggi and Acquaroli, with Ceriscioli winning with an extremely comfortable margin over his opponents.

The support of Spacca’s candidacy was an ill advised choice for the moderate wing of the centre-right, left wing voters were turned off by him and his betrayal and very few followed him, while conservative voters were shocked by moderate conservatives running with the governor they opposed for ten years and turned to Acquaroli instead.

Even in Marche the League surpassed Forza Italia and becomes the biggest force among the right of centre parties. The Brothers of Italy also obtained a good result, with what was the best performance of the party in the regional elections. This was likely due to an Acquaroli effect, himself a member of the Brothers of Italy.

Ceriscioli’s victory came with a wider than expected margin. Although the PD lost ten points compared to last year’s European elections, it can be viewed as a positive result, given Spacca’s schism.

The 5 Star Movement profited from the conservative’s division and ended in second place, though losing six points from last year’s European elections.

Umbria

Governor

Catiuscia Marini (PD; SEL; Others) 42.8%
Claudio Ricci (Northern League; Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy; New Centre Right) 39.3%
Andrea Liberati (5 Star Movement) 14.3%
Michele Vecchietti (The Other Umbria; Far Left) 1.6%
Simone Di Stefano (Sovereignty-Far Right) 0.7%
Amato John de Paulis (Independent) 0.6%
Aurelio Fabiani (Communist Workers Party) 0.5%
Fulvio Carlo Maiorca (Forza Nuova-Far Right) 0.3%

Regional Council

Marini’s Coalition 43.4%
Democratic Party 35.8% winning 11 seats
Left Ecology and Freedom 2.6% winning 1 seat
Others 5.0% 1 seat

Ricci’s coalition 38.5%
Northern League 14.0% winning 2 seats
Forza Italia 8.5% winning 1 seat
Brothers of Italy 6.2% winning 1 seat
Ricci’s List 4.5% winning 1 seat
New Centre Right 2.6%
Others 2.7%

5 Star Movement (Liberati) 14.6% winning 1 seat
The Other Umbria (Vecchietti) 1.6%
Sovereignty (Di Stefano) 0.7%
Reformist Alternative (de Paulis) 0.5%
Communist Workers Party (Fabiani) 0.5%
Forza Nuova (Maiorca) 0.4%

Umbria has usually been an historical stronghold of the Italian left. Alongside Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, Umbria has usually been considered the heartland of the Italian left. However a series of corruption scandal that heavily involved the PD, the hegemonic party of the region, and the severe economic crisis that the region is facing are putting this hegemony in jeopardy.

Last year’s mayoral elections gave a worrying signal for the left. Conservatives won the city of Perugia, the region’s capital, ending seventy years of left-wing dominance in the city. Initial polls showed incumbent governor Marini ahead, but her lead over former Assisi conservative mayor Claudio Ricci, started to dwindle in the final weeks of the campaign. Initial projections on election night seemed to point towards a shocking conservative pick-up in the tiny left wing bastion. However, Marini was able to ultimately survive the conservative attempt to pull a shocking upset. This victory is however a worrying signal for the left. Conservatives for the first time seriously challenged the left’s hegemony and they came very close from pulling the upset. This is a signal that Umbria is no longer a safe region for the left and that conservatives can be competitive when they run credible candidates.

Even in Umbria the League became the first party of the centre-right, surpassing Forza Italia by a 2:1 margin. The League increased by 11 points its result from last year’s European elections, while Forza Italia lost more than six points. The PD lost 13 points from European elections, while the 5 star Movement decreased by 4.6% compared to 2014.

Mayoral elections (provincial capitals only)

Alongside elections in seven of the twenty regions, several municipalities renewed their mayor and city council, including 17 provincial capital including Veneto’s capital, Venice. Regional results were mixed at best for the governing party, but mayoral were not very good, especially runoffs gave some bad surprises for Renzi’s party.

Lecco

I Round

Virginio Brivio (Democratic Party) 39.2%
Alberto Negrini (Northern League; Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy) 26.5%
Lorenzo Bodega (New Centre Right) 20.2%
Massimo Riva (5 Star Movement) 8.6%
Alberto Anghileri (Far Left) 5.5%

Runoff

Virginio Brivio (Democratic Party) 54.4%
Alberto Negrini (Northern League) 45.6%

Centre-Left hold

Mantova

I Round

Mattia Palazzi (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 46.5%
Paola Bulbarelli (Forza Italia; Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 26.4%
Michele Annaloro (5 Star Movement) 7.7%
Alberto Grandi (Independent) 4.7%
Luca De Marchi (Independent) 4.2%
Arnaldo De Pietri (Independent) 2.8%
Maurizio Esposito (Independent) 2.4%
Mohamed Tabi (Independent) 1.6%
Cesare Azzetti (Far Left) 1.6%
Andrea Gardini (Independent) 1.1%
Sergio Ciliegi (Independent) 0.9%
Gilberto Sogliani (Independent) 0.2%

Runoff

Mattia Palazzi (Democratic Party) 62.6%
Paola Bulbarelli (Forza Italia) 37.4%

Centre-Left pick-up

Venice

I Round

Felice Casson (Democratic Party; Others) 38.0%
Luigi Brugnaro (Independent Centre-Right; Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 28.6%
Davide Scano (5 Star Movement) 12.6%
Gian Angelo Bellati (Northern League) 11.9%
Francesca Zaccariotto (Brothers of Italy) 6.8%
Giampietro Pizzo (Independent) 0.9%
Camilla Seibizzi (Far Left) 0.7%
Alessandro Busetto (Far Left) 0.3%
Francesco Mario D’Elia (Regionalist) 0.2%

Runoff

Luigi Brugnaro (Independent Centre Right) 53.2%
Felice Casson (Democratic Party) 46.8%

Centre-Right pick-up

Rovigo

I Round

Nadia Romeo (Democratic Party) 24.0%
Massimo Bergamin (Northern League; Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 18.6%
Paolo Avezzù (Tosi List) 15.5%
Silvia Menon (Independent) 15.4%
Ivaldo Vernelli (5 Star Movement) 10.1%
Livio Ferrari (Far Left) 5.3%
Andrea Bimbati (Independent) 4.6%
Antonio Gianni Saccardin (Independent) 3.4%
Giovanni Nalin (Left Ecology and Freedom) 2.2%
Federico Donegatti (Far Right) 0.8%

Runoff

Massimo Bergamin (Northern League) 59.7%
Nadia Romeo (Democratic Party) 40.3%

Centre-Right hold

Arezzo

I Round

Matteo Bracciali (Democratic Party) 44.2%
Alessandro Ghinelli (Forza Italia; Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 36.0%
Massimo Ricci (5 Star Movement) 9.1%
Gianni Mori (Independent) 4.6%
Maria Cristina Nardone (Independent) 1.7%
Ennio Gori (Far Left) 1.5%
Roberto Barone (Independent) 1.4%
Gianfranco Morini (Independent) 1.0%
Alessandro Ruzzi (Independent) 0.5%

Runoff

Alessandro Ghinelli (Forza Italia) 50.8%
Matteo Bracciali (Democratic Party) 49.2%

Centre-Right pick-up

Macerata

I Round

Romano Carancini (Democratic Party; UDC; Left Ecology and Freedom) 39.9%
Deborah Pantana (Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 18.0%
Maurizio Mosca (Brothers of Italy) 13.6%
Carla Messi (5 Star Movement) 13.5%
Anna Menghi (Northern League) 7.2%
Mariella Tardella (Independent) 3.8%
Michele Lattanzi (Far Left) 2.7%
Tommaso Golini (Far Right) 0.9%
Maria Adele Pallotto (Independent) 0.3%

Runoff

Romano Carancini (Democratic Party) 59.1%
Deborah Pantana (Forza Italia) 40.9%

Centre-Left hold

Fermo

I Round

Pasquale Zacheo (Democratic Party) 24.9%
Paolo Calcinaro (Independent) 22.9%
Giambattista Catalini (Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 17.4%
Massimo Rossi (Far Left) 15.0%
Marco Mochi (5 Star Movement) 10.7%
Mauro Torresi (Brothers of Italy) 9.1%

Runoff

Paolo Calcinaro (Independent) 69.9%
Pasquale Zacheo (Democratic Party) 30.1%

Independent pick-up

Chieti

I Round

Umberto Di Primio (Forza Italia; New Centre Right; UDC) 37.0%
Luigi Febo (Democratic Party) 30.3%
Ottavio Argenio (5 Star Movement) 11.1%
Bruno Di Paolo (Independent) 8.6%
Enrico Raimondi (Far Left)
Antonello D’Aloisio (Us With Salvini) 3.2%
Roberto Di Monte (Independent) 2.7%
Donato Marcotullio (Independent) 1.3%

Runoff

Umberto Di Primio (Forza Italia) 55.0%
Luigi Febo (Democratic Party) 45.0%

Centre-Right hold

Andria

I Round

Nicola Giorgino (Forza Italia; Us With Salvini) 52.2%
Sabino Fortunato (Democratic Party) 24.1%
Michele Coratella (5 Star Movement) 20.9%
Savino Losappio (Far Left) 1.7%
Sabino Cannone (Independent) 1.0%

Centre Right hold

Trani

I Round

Amedeo Bottaro (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 47.5%
Antonio Florio (Independent) 14.6%
Emanuele Tomasicchio (Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy) 11.1%
Antonio Procacci (Independent) 10.6%
Antonella Papagni (5 Star Movement) 9.9%
Carlo Laurora (New Centre Right) 6.3%

Runoff

Amedeo Bottaro (Democratic Party) 75.8%
Antonio Florio (Independent) 24.4%

Centre-Left pick-up

Matera

I Round

Salvatore Adduce (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 40.1%
Raffaello De Ruggeri (Independent Centre Right) 36.0%
Angelo Tortorelli (Independent) 13.0%
Antonio Materdomini (5 Star Movement) 8.4%
Francesco Vespe (Far Left) 1.4%
Antonio Cappiello (Us With Salvini) 1.1%

Runoff

Raffaello De Ruggeri (Independent Centre Right) 54.5%
Salvatore Adduce (Democratic Party) 45.5%

Centre Right pick-up

Vibo Valentia

I Round

Elio Costa (Independent Centre Right) 50.8%
Antonio Maria Lo Schiavo (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 37.3%
Cesare Pasqua (Independent) 4.6%
Antonio D’Agostino (Independent) 4.5%
Francesco Bevilacqua (Brothers of Italy) 2.8%

Centre Right hold

Nuoro

I Round
Alessandro Bianchi (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 29.9%
Andrea Soddu (Regionalist; Sardinian Action Party) 21.5%
Basilio Brodu (New Centre Right) 16.5%
Tore Lai (5 Star Movement) 12.0%
Pierluigi Saiu (Independent) 11.5%
Stefano Mannironi (Independent) 8.6%

Runoff

Andrea Soddu (Regionalist) 68.4%
Alessandro Bianchi (Democratic Party) 31.6%

Regionalist pick-up

Tempio Pausania

Andrea Maria Biancareddu (Independent Centre-Right) 52.1%
Antonio Balata (Independent Centre-Left) 38.5%
Nino Vargiu (5 Star Movement) 5.7%
Salvatore Sassu (Independent) 3.7%

Centre Right pick-up

Sanluri (No runoff, since the town is under 15.000 inhabitants)

Alberto Urpi (Independent) 47.2%
Giuseppe Tatti (Independent) 40.1%
Luigi Pilloni (5 Star Movement) 12.7%

Agrigento

I Round

Lillo Firetto (UDC; New Centre Right; Democratic Party) 59.0%
Silvio Alessi (Forza Italia) 14.9%
Marco Marcolin (Us with Salvini) 9.2%
Emanuele Cardillo (5 Star Movement) 8.8%
Giuseppe Arnone (Independent) 3.2%
Andrea Cirino (Brothers of Italy) 2.9%
Giuseppe Di Rosa (Independent) 2.0%

Centre-Left hold

Enna

I Round

Mirello Crisafulli (Democratic Party) 41.0%
Maurizio Di Pietro (Independent Centre Right) 24.4%
Davide Solfato (5 Star Movement) 17.5%
Angelo Girasole (Far Left) 17.2%

Runoff

Maurizio Di Pietro (Independent Centre Right) 51.9%
Mirello Crisafulli (Democratic Party) 48.1%

Centre Right pick-up

Before this electoral cycle the centre-left coalition held 10 of the 17 provincial capitals that went to the polls, but lost four of them, including Venice, the biggest of the towns that went to the polls.

As I wrote in the preview Venice has always been something of a “Red Sheep” in an overwhelming conservative region. Even in its darkest days the centre-left always held the Venice municipality with good margins. But recent corruption scandals that heavily involved the centre-left local establishment, including incumbent mayor Orsoni who was arrested for corruption, and polemics on issues like the obscene Bridge of Calatrava, the passage of cruise ships in the lagoon, urban decay and rudeness of the tourists led to a surprising upset, with independent conservative Brugnaro defeating the Democratic Party nominee, former prosecutor turned politician Felice Casson. After losing the first round by almost ten points, Brugnaro was able to coalesce behind him all the voters from right of center and also part of Grillini’s voters, thus becoming the first centre-right mayor of Venice since direct mayoral elections began in 1993, ending 22 years of centre-left dominance in Veneto’s capital.

Another spectacular upset came in Arezzo, the home town of Constitutional Reform minister Maria Elena Boschi, who is usually considered Renzi’s de facto number 2. Conservative candidate Alessandro Ghinelli upset centre-left candidate Matteo Bracciali by a razor thin margin, returning the city to the right after nine years. The centre-left also lost Matera and Tempio Pausania to independent conservative candidates, and lost Fermo and Nuoro to independents.

Not all bad news came for the Democrats as the centre-left was able to regain from the right Mantova and Trani, but the overall picture, also counting minor cities, is not a very good one for the governing party.

Few days after the regional election results, and the first round of mayoral elections, the website “Seitrezero” showed a national projection of the regional results. The PD still leads the field, however with “only” 33.4% of votes, seven points less than last year’s European election. The 5 Star Movement followed with 21.7% of votes, 0.5% more than one year ago, while the League gained more than ten points with 16.2%. Forza Italia performed poorly only 12%, almost five points down from one year ago. The Brothers of Italy obtained a bit more than 5.2%, up 1.5%, while the New Centre Right only gained 2.9%, down 1.4% and also below the 3% threshold fixed by the new electoral law. The various far left denomination, if put together, would gain 4.3%, up 0.3% from one year ago far left joint list “The Other Europe”.

What conclusion can we achieve from this local elections?

1-Regional and mayoral elections are becoming increasingly local

Though national mood and national issues have a great influence on the outcome of these elections, citizens are more and more inclined to vote for a candidate instead of his party. Results in Liguria, Venice and Arezzo, traditional left-leaning constituencies won by conservatives, and Apulia, a conservative region that a centre-left candidate won in a landslide, prove the increased tendency of Italians to choose local leadership regardless of their political party

2-The honeymoon with Renzi is over, but…

One year ago the PD’s stunning 40.8% in European elections led pundits and experts to elect Renzi as the new absolute king of Italian politics and paint the Democratic Party as something like a natural governing party, like the old Christian Democracy was. These results certainly challenge this assumption. The Democrats achieved that shocking result in the midst of Renzi’s honeymoon with the Italian electorate, however, after one year, the Florentine leader has still achieved very little, and his party have been plagued by various scandals, most notably in Emilia Romagna; Tuscany; Campania; Liguria; Rome and Venice.

The Democratic Party performance can’t be considered satisfying, but still holds a edge on a divided opposition who still struggles to coalesce around a credible alternative

3-The Centre-Right is still alive, but…

Unlike what most people thought one year ago, Italians conservatives are not dead. Actually they’re still well alive, and, if they’re able to unite around a new national leader, they can give Renzi a true run for his money. But the centre-right coalition is still well divided. The Boschi law recently approved by parliament will make it hard for one of the conservative leader to reach the runoff. The League, who is now officially the biggest party on the right, has made great inroads in central Italy, but its Southern spinoff “Us with Salvini” still has a long way to go to make the League competitive in southern Italy, and so enable Salvini to be truly competitive nationwide.

Italy’s conservatives are facing a big dilemma, divided between the radical eurosceptic and anti-immigration wing, represented by Salvini’s League and Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, and the more moderate pro-European wing represented by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Alfano’s New Centre Right. These elections have sanctioned a big win for the radical eurosceptic wing, but Berlusconi still claims he’s the only one able to unite conservatives, despite his party have been doubled by the League in 5 regions out of 7 and the fact that runoff polls against Renzi constantly put him under 40% in scenarios against Renzi, while Salvini will be much more competitive against the prime minister polling around 45-48% in runoff scenarios.

A reunion of conservatives on a national basis seems unlikely due to Salvini continuing clash against Interior Minister, and New Centre Right leader, Angelino Alfano often labelled by him as inept and incompetent. Berlusconi has repeatedly called for a new leader to reunite the so called “moderates”, however who this new leader will be is still a mystery, probably is Berlusconi himself or more likely one of his five sons. In spite of his party’s national meltdown, Berlusconi still thinks that his brand, maybe carried by one of his sons, is still the only one that can lead conservatives to victory.

4-The 5 Star Movement is also still alive

The 5 Star Movement performance was so and so. In regional elections they’ve been unable to repeat the results of parliamentary and European elections. Though in runoffs they’ve been able to carry some cities, most notably Gela, home of Sicily’s governor Rosario Crocetta.

As I often pointed out, the Movement has usually hard time in local and regional elections, due to their lack of experience. They’ve not been able to carry one of the seven regions, but they did place as runner-ups in two regions, Marche and Apulia. I judge their overall performance as a tie, not a win not a loss. They’re still there, with roughly 21-22% of votes nationwide, however it looks like their peak of 2013 (25.6%) is something they can’t repeat. Although they’ve not melted down like someone expected after last year’s European elections.

5-Abstention is now the first party of Italy

48% of eligible voters opted to not show themselves to polls. In countries like the USA or the UK, the fact that almost half of the population doesn’t show up for local contests won’t surprise anyone. In Italy however, who long claimed to be the country with highest voting turnout in Western Europe, the increasing party of abstention worries political parties since the rise of abstentions makes elections more and more unpredictable.

6-Runoffs might be a lethal trap for Renzi

According to the new electoral law, recently approved by parliament, makes legislative elections increasingly look like mayoral elections. If no single party list passes the 40% threshold, than there will be a runoff between the two most voted parties.

Since no parties is currently close to the threshold, in case an early election is called, there will likely be a runoff.

In the last twenty years runoffs in mayoral elections usually favoured left-wing candidates over conservatives, due to the fact that conservatives tends to be much more damaged by lower turnout in runoffs. This tendency led to some extremely notable upsets. Many conservative cities, sometimes very conservatives cities, were won by the left thanks to extremely low turnout in runoffs. This has probably led Renzi to think this kind of law that, he thought, would have favour his party.

But in the last couple of years something has changed, as 5 Star Movement voters seems to vote in runoffs with no clear partisan leaning. Due to the similarities of the Movement with the League on issues like Europe and immigration, with the 5 Star Movement being just a bit more moderate than the League on both issues, it is very likely that a runoff might be extremely dangerous for Renzi, with the League and the Movement voters will likely unite against him.

The days after the elections have been hot. The left wing of the Democratic Party is accusing Renzi for the result, with is usual arrogance Renzi is denying any responsibility for the disappointing outcome and instead is blaming his internal opponents whom he calls losers. To signal he couldn’t care less of the outcome, Renzi posted a picture of himself playing at the playstation the night of the elections. However these results are certainly a blow for him and his ambitions. To avoid losing the majority in Parliament, Renzi might ask the President of the Republic to call an early election, but the new electoral law will enter in functions only next year. The current electoral law have been modified by the constitutional court into an old style proportional system, making impossible for a single party to achieve a working majority. If Renzi is forced to call for early elections Italy will likely fall under a new caretaker cabinet, and the Florentine bully will see the precocious end of his political career.

Next months will be very interesting for Italian politics, and European institutions should watch very closely what will happen, since Italy looks as the country where parties who openly wish to withdraw from Euro, have a higher chance to conquer the national government.

Guest Post: Election Preview: Italy (Regional and Local) 2015

I have been very fortunate to receive a guest post from Giovanni Rettore previewing the Italian regional elections which will be held on May 31, 2015.

This weekend seven of the twenty Italian regions, including Campania, Veneto, Apulia and Tuscany, will vote to renew their regional council and their governors. Additionally thousands of cities, most notably Venice, will renew their city councils and their mayors.

The outcome of the elections will likely affect the internal debate on a number of hot button issues including the economic and immigration crisis, the education reform and the electoral reform. A good performance by eurosceptic movements like the Northern League and the Five Star Movement, who openly supports Italy withdrawing from the European Monetary Union, might also have repercussion on international politics, especially in light of recent parliamentary elections in the UK, presidential elections in Poland and local elections in Spain that saw victories for eurosceptic parties and candidates.

Regionalisation and the devolution process in Italy has been a hot topic since the end of World War II and the establishment of the new constitution. The constitution of 1948 provided for the creation of twenty regions, however the constitution remained ineffective for more than twenty years. Only five of the twenty regions were provided power and an elected regional council: Sicily; Sardinia; Friuli Venezia Giulia; Trentino Alto Adige and Aosta Valley. Those five regions, still today, enjoys higher fiscal and political autonomy, that often led to polemics by other regions who disagree with the special status that these five regions enjoy.  The other fifteen regions, called “ordinary regions” in Italian law, were finally given an autonomous parliament only in 1970, twenty two years after the approval of the constitution, when the first regional elections were held.

During the so-called “First Republic” the regional elections were held under a proportional representation system with no threshold, thus leading to frequent crisis of fragile coalition governments. In 1995, for the first time, Italians started to directly elect their governors. A new reform, approved in 2001 by citizens, gave ordinary regions more autonomy and power, especially in the sector of health care. However, due to increasing scandals in the health care and the high numbers of trials in front of the Constitutional Courts on the shared competences between state and regions have led to increasing criticism of the new autonomy given to regional executives.

Electoral Law

As written above, the first five regional elections were held under a proportional representation system without a threshold. The governor was not directly elected by citizens, instead his elections came as a result of pact between parties. Due to the electoral law, rarely a party was able to enjoy a majority of seats and often had to rely on fragile coalition governments. Often governors were sacked by their own allies during their terms and replaced by others.

In 1995 the electorate was eventually allowed to directly elect their governors, however during the 1995-2000 regional legislatures many regional governments still suffered from instability and several elected governors were forced to resign due to clash in the coalitions and replaced by parliamentary elected governors. Since 2000 however the law foresees that if a governor resigns or loses a motion of no confidence, this will automatically trigger an early election. Due to this mechanism the last years saw a huge number of regions forced to held early elections. Several governors have been forced to resign as results of scandals or no confidence motions thus leading regional elections to become more and more sparse.

Currently in almost all regions the governor is elected under an electoral system that gives the party, or the coalition of parties, that supports the winning governor a majority of seats in the regional parliament. While the other parties split the remaining seats. Something that can be described as a “winner-takes all” system. Almost all regions, with the notable exception of Tuscany, don’t have a runoff. So, a plurality of valid votes is enough for the elected governor to rely on a majority in the regional parliament. Threshold for parties to enter in the regional council varies between regions, as do laws on term limits with some regions allowing a governor running for only two terms, and other not having term limits laws.

A citizen, to vote for a governor have different options

1. Vote only for governor only, putting a cross only on the name of the governor, thus the vote will be valid only for the gubernatorial elections and have no effect on council composition

2. Vote for one of the parties that supports a gubernatorial nominee, in this case the vote will be valid for both the party and the gubernatorial candidate supported by the party

3. Vote for one party for regional council, but also opted for voting for a gubernatorial candidate not supported by the party voted. In this case, called disjointed vote, the vote is valid for both the party and for the gubernatorial candidate even if the party supports a different gubernatorial candidate

National background

Regional elections have often been seen as a very political test for national government, so usually regional debates have been obscured and influenced by national climate. Though in recent years regional results have become increasingly influenced by local issues and by the personality of the regional candidates, there’s no doubt that the outcome of the election will likely affect, and be affected, by the national climate as often happened in the past.

Last year’s European elections have been sometimes described as landmark and key to opening a realignment in national politics. The Democratic Party, under the leadership of prime minister Matteo Renzi challenged the European climate of protests against establishment parties, and won an historic 40.8% of votes doubling his nearest competitor, the catch-all populist Five Star Movement who won a somewhat disappointing 21.2%. This, according to experts and commentators signed something of a realignment in national politics, with the Democratic Party seen as something like a dominant party like the Christian Democracy used to be during the Postwar years, ‘til the 90’s. Also European elections probably marked the definite beginning of the end for Silvio Berlusconi, with his party Forza Italia finishing distant third with only 16.6% of votes. After 20 years characterized by his rises and falls, the Italian electorate seems to be completely tired of Berlusconi and decided to put him in the past, with Matteo Renzi overtaking him as the leading figure of Italian politics.

The months following the EP election have been characterized by the unexpected rise in polls of Matteo Salvini. The new leader of the right-wing populist Northern League has been able to resuscitate his party. After a fairly good showing in European Elections, Salvini is now seen as the de facto leader of Italian centre-right. Currently the League is polling around 16% in national polls, well above Berlusconi’s Forza Italia which polls now show with just around 10% of voting intentions.

National polls also consistently put Salvini in second place as the most popular political leader in the country, just behind Renzi and well above both Grillo and Berlusconi. Salvini, during his tenure as leader of the League have shifted party platform towards an even more open euroscepticism, putting thewithdrawal from the Euro in the party platform, and increasingly criticism towards refugees policy and the government handling on the illegal immigration crisis. Salvini has personally tied himself with economy teacher Claudio Borghi Aquilini, who is seen as the economy minister of the League, and has been one of the main responsible for the League eurosceptic shift.

The certification of Salvini rise came last fall in Emilia Romagna. Emilia Romagna, an historical left-wing stronghold, had to held early election due to the conviction of incumbent governor centre-left governor Vasco Errani, that triggered an early election. Due to the weakness of Forza Italy, Salvini was able to impose Alan Fabbri as the centre-right candidate. Although the left won Emilia Romagna as usual, the result created some discussion in national public. The League won almost 20% of votes, an historical peak for the regional conservative party in a usual left wing stronghold. The left overall conquered less than 50% of popular votes. Though that meant a comfortable victory, this result was seen as a disappointment given that left wing parties overall lost something like 9 points compared to June European Elections, while the League jumped from 5% in June to almost 20% and the right coalition rose from 19 to 28%. Also a worrying signal was the extremely low turnout, only 39% showed to the polls in the region that historically led turnout statistics.

The Northern League, in its almost thirty years in parliament, has always been a vocal critic of multiculturalism, Islam’s role in the society, immigration from non western countries and Roma’s refusal to integrate, but Salvini made a shift to the right that probably not even his predecessor Bossi had ever imagined. Salvini made interior minister Angelino Alfano, ironically a former allied of the League, his main target accusing him of ineptitude and incompetence in the handling of the illegal immigration crisis that Italy is facing.

Salvini rethoric in opposing “Mare Nostrum” operation that led illegal immigrants from the Mediterranean Sea was helped by a scandal that erupted in Rome. Telephone calls tapped by police leaked to the press and showed some responsible of NGOs laughing and wishing for disasters, catastrophes and more refugees, describing the illegal immigration as a big business for NGOs.

Another statistics that helped Salvini is that only 30% demanded for refugee protection and just 4% of them obtained the status of refugees and only 25% obtained protection. The government’s policy to pay hotels to host refugees only increases popular distrust of government’s ability to handle the illegal immigration crisis. Europe’s answers to Italy’s demands for help in the crisis have been judged as meaningless. Italian rage for the immigration crisis has France as the big target. France is accused to be responsible for the crisis due to their leading role in the downfall of Libyan dictator Qaddafi which threw Libya into a state of permanent civil war. Italy now asks France to take responsibility for it, and take a substantial numbers of immigrants, but the French government has repeatedly refused to help Italy take care of refugees

But Salvini also used the economic crisis as a means to increase his personal consensus. Salvini heavily criticized the EU handling of the crisis, the austerity measures of spending cuts and tax increase that EU organs recommended to the last Italian governments. Austerity measures, that in Italy were enacted with high tax increases, have thrown Italy in its worse economic crisis since the end of World War II. The current economic crisis has been even more severe than the ’29 crisis, that actually didn’t touch Italy as harshly as other Western countries. During the ’29 crisis Italy lost “only” 5% of its GDP, exited from recession in the second half of 1931, and returned to the pre-crisis level in 1935, while in 2014, six years after the beginning of the 2008 recession, Italy still saw a negative GDP growth for the third year in a row and has lost almost 10% of its GDP. Unemployment rate have passed from 6% to 13%. Especially after the Monti government’s austerity package the unemployment crisis was exacerbated with unemployment rate rising from around 8% to around 12% by the time Monti left Palazzo Chigi. Unemployment continued to rise during the Letta and Renzi governments. Current previsions from the IMF signalled that Italy is exiting from recession, although Italy GDP growth will still be anemic in 2015 and much lower than both EU and Eurozone average.

Salvini, as written above, openly supports Italy leaving the Euro and returning to Lira. Salvini has been highly influenced by a group of economists that, in last five years heavily campaigned for Italy to leave the common currency. The most well-known of this group of economists is Claudio Borghi Aquilini, now seen as the Economy Minister of the League, who is currently running for Tuscany governor. This move however met some criticism within the party. Most notably the withdrawal from the Euro was one of the main reasons that led to the expulsion from the League of Verona’s mayor Flavio Tosi, who unlike Salvini supports Italy staying within the European Monetary Union.

Salvini, probably sensing that Berlusconi days are likely over, has led the transformation of the League into a national party. Salvini started to campaign heavily in Southern and Central Italy. Though sometimes met by popular uprising, Salvini descent to south was saluted with good polling results. Polls consistently show the League running ahead of Forza Italia not only in its historical northern strongholds, but also in Central Italian regions, usually refractarian to the League, like Tuscany; Marche and Umbria. Salvini also led the creation of a southern spinoff of the League called “Noi con Salvini” (We with Salvini) that will present a list of candidates in Apulia and will likely be used as a mean to carry the League towards the conquest of the southern conservative electorate, left free by Forza Italia’s national meltdown. Doing so Salvini made something like an “Iron Pact” with the tiny “Brothers of Italy” party. Led by former youth minister Giorgia Meloni, “Brothers of Italy” is a party that coalesced around former National Alliance supporters. After failing by 0.3% the passing of the electoral threshold in June, the Brothers of Italy also profited of Berlusconi’s meltdown and currently polls around 4-5% in national polls. Meloni has, in the last months, closely allied with Salvini in local elections and on national issues, also criticizing government immigration policies and calling for Italy’s withdrawal from Euro.

 

Due to recent election results in UK, Poland and Spain an affirmation of Salvini’s party in Italian regional elections might be another episode in the ongoing EU meltdown saga.

 

Regional races

 

I will now try to do a quick resume of the regional races, giving a synthetic background of the single races. I will start from the most populated of the seven regions to the least populated.

 

Campania

Campania ranks as the third most populated region of Italy, and the most populated among the seven that will renew its governor and regional council this weekend. Campania, home to Naples, the third most populated town of Italy, will likely be one of the closest contests this Sunday. Campania is one of the poorest regions in Italy. Though being the third most populated region it ranks last as GDP per capita, and ranks third among the twenty regions for unemployment rate. Campania’s unemployment rate is currently 22.8%, more than nine points above than the national average. Campania also is frequently cited for its security problems and the high influence of organized crime in local politics.

 

During the so called “First Republic”, Campania was a conservative region. Like in the other southern regions, left-wing parties were usually weaker than national average, while centrist Christian Democracy and the hard right Italian Social Movement usually performed strongly. In the 90’s, during the so called “Second Republic” Campania became a swing region, like most of the other southern regions. Since the direct election of governor have been introduced in 1995 the centre-right have won two times, while centre-left also won twice.

 

Like in most southern regions the collapse of the historical parties have led local elections to become highly unpredictable and dominated by powerful local bosses, mostly former Christian Democrats, who depending on the current mood side with either left or right. Clemente Mastella, former Justice Minister and leader of the tiny centrist UDEUR, used to be the most famous of this southern local bosses that, depending on the national trend, sided with one coalition or the other, usually in exchange for pork and barrel spending for their personal constituencies.

 

In 1995 the centre-right won the election with Antonio Rastrelli, but in 1999 Rastrelli lost a motion of no confidence, mainly due to Mastella changing sides, and the left conquered the region. Elections in 2000 saw the election of then Naples mayor, Antonio Bassolino, who led the centre-left towards victory. The lone bright spot to what was otherwise a nightmarish night for the Italian centre-left. Bassolino easily won re-election in 2005, but his second term was infamously plagued by the well known trash scandal. Naples and its suburbs found themselves covered by trash Bassolino and then Naples mayor, fellow PD member Rosa Russo Iervolino, have largely been considered responsible for the scandal and quickly became pariah even in their own party. In consequence of the trash scandal the centre-right coalition easily won 2010 elections. In 2010 elections the Democratic Party tried to walk away from Bassolino’s toxic legacy and nominated Salerno mayor Vincenzo De Luca, a long time vocal critic of Bassolino within the Democratic Party. De Luca as usually been cold the “Red Sheriff” due to its commitment for law and order. In the most heated days of the trash scandal De Luca was quoted saying that his town, Salerno, was “as clean as Switzerland”. However it was not enough and centre right candidate Stefano Caldoro, a little known former junior minister of Berlusconi cabinet, won with a double digit margin, taking 54% of popular vote to De Luca’s 43%.

 

Ever since his defeat De Luca has eyed a re-match with Caldoro, hoping that the waning memory of Bassolino might give him a better shot at victory, however a first degree conviction for a spending scandal severely hurt his reputation as a law and order politician.

 

In spite of this, De Luca once again ran and won the centre-left primaries. However a second conviction came in January, and as a result of the second conviction, due to the new anti-corruption law, De Luca has been punished with one year ban from public offices. If De Luca is elected governor he will probably be forced to resign as soon as he enters in office. To resolve the issue there have been talks of the Democratic Party studying a reform of the Severino law. Such talks have been met with high criticism both from the right, that accuses the Democratic Party of double standards due to the Democrats use of the same law to expel Berlusconi from the Senate, and the hard left that supports the Severino law

 

This has led the left-wing “Left Ecology and Freedom” to broke with the Democratic Party and run its own candidate MEP Salvatore Vozza. Another candidate that protested De Luca candidacy.

 

De Luca however has been able to win the endorsed by the Union of the Center and the old political boss of the late Christian Democracy, Ciriaco De Mita. De Mita’s son was the deputy of incumbent governor Caldoro, but his father quickly broke with the governor and now sides with his main opponent.

 

Caldoro runs for re-election leading a centre-right coalition with Forza Italia, the New Centre Right, a national splinter of Forza Italia’s minister within the Letta government, and the Brothers of Italy.

 

The 5 Star Movement is represented by political activist Valeria Ciarambino

 

Initially pre-election polls showed a lead for De Luca, but after polemics surrounding his conviction, the presence of felons in the lists that endorses him and the endorsement of an old crook like De Mita have eroded his initial lead. Current polls points toward a very uncertain race with Caldoro and De Luca running neck and neck both polling around 37% of votes. The 5 Star Movement polls distant third with roughly 20% of voting intentions while the left wing candidates together amount for around 6% of voting intentions. There’s a chance that left-wing dissident and 5 Star Movement candidates perform strong enough to lead De Luca towards a defeat.

 

As written above, even if De Luca wins, he might be forced out of office as soon as he is sworn in, due to the Severino law.  This fact might lead undecided people to vote for Caldoro knowing that a De Luca administration might end in a blink of an eye. However De Luca is still considered a very strong candidate and might able to overcome is possible ineligibility, at least on election day.

 

Prediction: Toss-Up

 

Veneto

 

Veneto is the fifth most populated regions of Italy, the second most populated among the seven voting regions and is usually considered one of the richest regions in the country. Veneto ranks third in GDP, fifth in GDP per capita, and is often considered one of the best regions in terms of public services usually ranking high in most public service statistics. Veneto’s unemployment rate is 7.7%, ranking second to last among the twenty regions for unemployment rate. However the enduring recession has put Veneto’s economic system, based mainly on little and medium enterprises, at odds. Several shops and enterprises have been forced to close due to enduring credit crunch and low domestic demand. Though its unemployment rate is much lower than national average, it has almost doubled since the start of recession in 2008. Veneto being one of the richest region in the country, it is usually the main “victim” of fiscal consolidation, meaning that Veneto usually has to pay for much of the tax increase imposed by the austerity measures.

 

Politically Veneto has always been allergic to the left. In the so called “First Republic”, Veneto was probably the biggest stronghold of the Christian Democracy. Often Christian Democracy won a majority of votes and seats all alone in regional elections. Both the Communist Party and other minor centrist and right parties usually performed very weak in Veneto.

 

In the mid 80’s however a nationalistic sentiment started to grow in Veneto that led to the quick rise of the Northern League. The League soon started to challenge the Christian Democrat hegemony in the region, becoming the most serious rival that Christian Democracy had to face in 50 years of political dominance. When the Christian Democracy collapsed in early 90’s it looked like the Northern League will take its place as the region natural governing party, but the birth of Forza Italia, and the rise of Berlusconi, ruined the League hegemonic plan, leading to a twenty years rivalry within the centre-right pole between the League and Forza Italia. However, as we’ll see, it finally seems that the League might get rid of its never loved ally and started to act as the region’s natural governing party.

 

The four elections since 1995 always saw the centre-right pole win with comfortable margins, although, as written above, the internal rivalry between the League and Forza Italia often led to turmoil and heated debates within the centre-right pole. In 1995 elections, where the League ran alone due to their withdraw from the first Berlusconi government, saw the victory of Giancarlo Galan, one of Berlusconi’s closest friend and ally. In 2000, with the League fully re-entered in the centre-right alliance, Galan won re-election with a 17 points margin . Even in 2005, a tremendous election night for the Italian centre-left, Galan won his third term with an 8 points margin.

 

Galan announced he was running for a fourth term, but was stopped by Berlusconi. The League was willing to elect one of his own member as head of the region, and so Galan withdrew from the race and reluctantly endorsed agriculture minister Luca Zaia of the League. Zaia, a very popular minister within the cabinet, won the election with a spectacular 60-29 margin. Zaia also led the League to finally winning a plurality of votes and seats in regional parliament, surpassing the People of Freedom with a 35-24 margin.

 

During his tenure Zaia has often led the charts of the most popular governors, with approval ratings averaging around 60%. Though Zaia has usually been seen as extremely popular, his position on Venetian independence is considered controversial. Zaia has often clashed with national government over the issue of allowing a Scottish-style separatist referendum. Zaia attempted to allow it with a regional law, but quickly the law was challenged by the national government to the Constitutional Court. Though Zaia’s high approval ratings seemed to lead towards an easy victory for him, in June 2014 the surprising victory of the Democratic Party in European elections, who won a plurality of votes in Veneto in a huge upset, led people to think that, maybe for the first time, the left might have a shot in winning one of the center-right’s usually inexpugnable strongholds.

 

The Democratic Party selected young MEP Alessandra Moretti as its flag-bearer in the hard fight to win a region that the left have never came close to conquer even in its best moments. However Moretti soon revealed herself to be an extremely weak candidate, certainly not the kind of candidate that might try to win such a conservative stronghold. Soon after announcing her run for governor, Moretti gave an interview to “Corriere della Sera” that made her the targets of jokes around the Internet. The interview was a Sarah Palin-style disaster in which Mrs Moretti spoke about her beautician, her love for beauty treatments, her ability as a singer and as a chef and her affair with famous TV host Massimo Giletti. Certainly not the kind of topics you wish a gubernatorial candidate talks about. As I said above, the interview quickly became viral and made of Moretti a Sarah Palin-style national joke.

 

Early polls showed Zaia leading the race with a double digit margins, with Moretti unable to recover from the disastrous interview. Moretti tried to exploit a scandal that erupted in June. The “Mose” scandal, a scandal related to a projected dam that might end the phenomenon of “Acqua alta” in Venice. The scandal led to the arrest of several politicians, most notably former governor Galan and Venice mayor Giorgio Orsoni. But Moretti tactic somewhat backfired due to the fact that Orsoni is a former member of the PD and that many local members of the party in the municipality of Venice, a city where the left won the last five municipal elections in a row, where charged with bribery and corruption.

 

However, when everybody thought Zaia was cruising towards his second term, then came what could have possibly been the game changer of the race. As I wrote above, not everyone in the League liked Salvini shift to the right. The most notable critic within the party became Verona’s mayor Flavio Tosi. Tosi, often mentioned as one of Italy’s most popular mayors in polls, openly criticized Salvini stances on immigration as too extreme (a funny criticism from someone like Tosi who has been convicted for using racial slur) and openly said he opposes Italy leaving the Euro. Before Salvini meteoric rise to the leadership of the party in the fall of 2013, Tosi was seen as the most likely new leader of the League, and people even started to mention him as a potential national leader of the centre-right in the wake of Berlusconi expulsion from the Senate. Though, as we know, Salvini stole from him both the role of new party leader and the national spotlight frustrating his ambitions to become the centre-right’s Renzi. In December came the final showdown, with Tosi and Salvini clashing on the composition of the list for regional elections that led to Tosi’s expulsion from the League few weeks later. Tosi then announced his run for governor and was quickly endorsed by the New Centre Right and the Union of the Centre.

 

After Tosi’s schism polls started to show a very tight race, with Moretti looking now as a much more serious threat due to Tosi siphoning votes from Zaia’s block. However both Tosi and Moretti campaign were awful. Moretti continued her palinesque gaffes, while Tosi campaign soon looked as improvised with Zaia quickly widening again his lead on Moretti taking back votes from Tosi. The televised debate between the four main candidates: Zaia; Moretti; Tosi and the 5 star Movement flag-bearer Jacopo Berti, was probably the last nail in the coffin for both Moretti and Tosi. In post-debate polls 36% of viewers proclaimed Zaia as the winner of the debate while 29% stated Moretti as the winner, 23% stated Berti won and only 12% retained Tosi as the winner.

 

Latest polls see Zaia with a solid double digit lead, over Moretti while Tosi might finish distant fourth, also behind Berti who ran a quite good campaign and performed well in the debate.

 

Though Zaia would have been a tough candidate to beat for everyone, probably a different candidate, like per example Vicenza mayor Achille Variati or MP Laura Puppato, might had more shots at making the election competitive due to the split of the center-right between Tosi and Zaia. Moretti revealed herself as a disastrous and ill-advised choice and will likely loose badly. Another month and maybe even Berti could have surpassed her. That’s what happens when you choose a candidate only for his/her pretty face and not for his/her real political skills.

 

An issue that will probably sparks discussion in the coming weeks will be the result of single parties, with Forza Italia predicted to be in lower single digits. Another signal of the ongoing agony of the former leading party of Italian centre-right

 

Prediction: Likely Center-Right

 

Apulia

 

 

Apulia is the eighth most populated region of Italy. Like most southern regions Apulia is poorer than the national average. Apulia ranks 17th among the twenty regions on per capita-GDP statistics. Unemployment rate is also higher than the national average. Currently 23.1% of Apulia’s labour force is jobless, ranking the region second only to Calabria in unemployment statistics.

 

Politically speaking, like most southern regions, Apulia local politics used to be dominated by the Christian Democracy and the hard right Italian Social Movement during the so called First Republic, while left-wing parties were never able to really challenge the Christian Democratic hegemony.  Like most southern regions, after the collapse of the so called First Republic, Apulia local politics became largely unpredictable and extremely volatile.

Initially Apulia was considered a reliable region for the centre-right pole, with conservatives easy winning the region in both 1995 and 2000. But in 2005 a shocking result was the beginning of a dramatic change in Apulia local politics.

 

Hard left MP Nichi Vendola, in one of the biggest upset in the history of Italian regional elections, unseated incumbent conservative governor Raffaele Fitto, who was considered a big favourite to win re-election, by a razor-thin margin. The election of an openly homosexual hard left politician in a usually Catholic and conservative region, that was one of the few regions which supported the repeal of the divorce law in the 1973 and that heavily voted for the monarchy in 1946, came as a shock to many both on the right and the left.

 

The centre-right coalition easily won Apulia in both 2006 and 2008 legislative elections. This results led many to think that Vendola election was just a fluke and that in 2010 Apulia would quickly return to its usual conservative loyalty. But things turned out to be extremely different. During his first term Vendola proved to be a quite popular governor, while its right wing opposition was fractious and divided. When Vendola ran for re-election the centrist wing of the centre-left coalition challenged him in primary elections in hope that a more moderate candidate, like Francesco Boccia, might be able to obtain the endorsement of the centrist UDC, something that Vendola couldn’t achieve. Vendola survived the primary challenge and then went on to win the general election. The main reason that gave Vendola his second term was the internal clash on the right between former governor Raffaele Fitto and Lecce’s mayor Adriana Poli Bortone, the two main local bosses of the centre-right. Poli Bortone, who polls showed being the second most popular politician of the region behind Vendola, looked as the natural candidate, but Fitto vetoed her endorsement and instead forced the then People of Freedom to endorse his protégé Rocco Palese. Thanks to the right’s suicide, Vendola easily won re-election with a wider than expected margin. After his re-election Vendola started to raise its national profile, in hope to become the new leader of the left coalition. Vendola endorsed several candidates of its own hard left party, Left Ecology and Freedom, in several centre-left local primaries, most notably the current Milan mayor Giuliano Pisapia. However Vendola quickly lost momentum as his second term in Apulia was not as successful as his first term. Local troubles for Vendola led to his quick downfall in national relevance. He ran for the centre-left primaries in 2012, but came distant third with just 16% of votes. On 2013 general election, Vendola’s personal list “Left, Ecology and Freedom”, who endorsed Bersani, only obtained 3% of votes.

 

While on his first term Vendola used to be very popular, things changed abruptly in his second term as his administration became increasingly involved in financial and political scandals. Actually scandals started yet in the first term, when his deputy governor Stefano Tedesco was arrested. But Vendola was able to distance himself by his former deputy, given the fact that the two belong to different parties. But in second terms Vendola was repeatedly charged with accusation that ruined his political image and made him increasingly irrelevant on national politics and increasingly unpopular in his region. First he was charged for abuse of authority. Vendola was acquitted of all charges, but few weeks after his acquittal a journalistic inquiry revealed that the prosecutor who absolved him was a personal friend of Vendola’s sister. An inquiry started on the judge, but the inquiry established that the judge was only an acquaintance of his sister and thus this didn’t affected her judgment in the trial. This is Italian justice ladies and gentlemen.

 

Then again Vendola was charged for an health care scandal, and once again acquitted. But even if acquitted, his image was severely damaged. Then came the last nail in the coffin, Vendola was charged being one of the main responsible for the ILVA pollution scandal in Taranto. It is yet to be established if Vendola is guilty or not, but regardless of the outcome the ILVA scandal has definitely destroyed any chance for Vendola to have a political future in his own region or nationwide. A phone call of Vendola laughing with the public relations manager of the Riva family, owner of ILVA, at the scandal and the death of cancer that resulted from the pollution scandal. Wheteher he is found guilty or innocent now doesn’t matter, Vendola is politically dead. Just another history of a demagogue, like Bossi and Di Pietro, that started his career calling for transparence and end of corruption and ended it being just another member of the club of Italian crooks.

 

You’d think that, after all this mess conservatives will easily regained the region. After all, the right easily won the 2013 legislative elections in the region with a seven points margin. And even in June Apulia was one of the weakest performance for the Democratic Party who took “only” 34%, a result seven points lower than the national average. But in spite all the scandals of Vendola’s era, and its continuing conservative loyalty in legislative elections, it looks like Apulia will once again elect a left-wing governor. Two main reason for this seemingly unexplainable result

 

1. Apulia’s centre-left found another very strong candidate in Bari’s mayor Michele Emiliano. Emiliano, a former prosecutor turned politician, became an extremely popular left wing mayor in a usually reliable conservative city, being often cited as one of Italy’s most popular mayors. Emiliano has to date not been touched by Vendola’s toxic legacy, and ranks as the most popular politician in the region.

 

2, The conservative pole once again opted for a suicide, giving the public opinion a replay of the clash between Adriana Poli Bortone and Raffaele Fitto. Adriana Poli Bortone announced her second run for governor and was quickly endorsed by the Northern League southern spin-off, “Noi con Salvini” and what remains of Forza Italia. But once again Fitto vetoed Poli Bortone candidacy and endorsed former Bari province president Frnacesco Schittulli. Schittulli obtained the endorsement of the New Centre Right, the Brothers of Italy  and Fitto’s personal civic list. This also led Fitto on the way out from Forza Italia and the EPP. Fitto, who in the last year tried to impose himself as the new leader of the party, announced his withdrawal from the party, the EPP group were he seated and the foundation of a new party. In Brussels now Fitto aderes to the ECR, the soft eurosceptic group founded by British Tories, has called for Italy to exit from Brussels’s cage and praised Cameron’s leadership. Another signal of Italy’s growing distrust for EU? Regardless, thanks to Fitto and Poli Bortone ongoing clash, Michele Emiliano will cruise to victory.

 

Maybe, being Emiliano an extremely strong candidate, even a united centre-right would have find hard to defeat him, but at least they would have given him a run for his money. With the current situation the only thing left undecided his who will be the runner-up, if Schittulli, Poli-Bortone or 5 Star Movement flag bearer Antonella Laricchia. Polls show Emiliano widely ahead with roughly 42% of votes, with Schittulli, Poli Bortone and Laricchia all polling around 17-20% each.

 

Prediction: Solid Centre-Left

 

Tuscany

 

Tuscany is the ninth most populated region of Italy. Tuscany is usually considered a moderate wealthy region, with a GDP per capita higher than the national average and an unemployement rate lower than the national average. Usually Tuscany ranks in the upper half in public services statistics. However the economic crisis has put somewhat in jeopardy Tuscany status as a wealthy region. Unemployment rate, though still lower than national average, is currently at 11.0%, more than doubled in the last four years.

 

Politically, Tuscany is usually seen, alongside with Emilia Romagna, as the historical heartland of the Italian left. In the so called First Republic the late Communist Party often led the region with a majority of seats. Tuscany and Emilia Romagna have usually been sold by the Italian left as the example of their good governing skills. In the so called Second Republic, Tuscany became an inexpugnable stronghold of the centre-left coalition, and the centre-right never really challenged the left dominance in the region, with left-wing governors usually elected with comfortable margins.

 

Though incumbent governor Enrico Rossi looks unbeatable, there’s a small chance  he might be forced to a runoff. Tuscany is the only region whose electoral law impose a runoff if no candidate reaches the 40% threshold. Rossi, in current polls is running with roughly 45% of votes. Though even in the unlikely scenario of Rossi being forced to a runoff, he will still be the overwhelming favorite to secure a second term. Even the great scandal of the Monte Paschi di Siena, one of the greatest bank in Italy, (whose board was largely nominated by left-wing run local administrations) which need a billionaire government bailout, seemed to have no effect on the race.

 

Rossi being an overwhelming favourite to win re-election the real interest is focused on who will be the runner-up. The race for second place is, unlike the overall race, wide open and polls show a tight race between the 5 Star Movement flag bearer Giacomo Giannarelli and the economist Claudio Borghi Aquilini, endorsed by the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy. Stefano Mugnai is Forza Italia candidate, who polls distant fourth, battling with far left candidate Tommaso Fattori for the fourth spot. Though Rossi is almost assured of being re-elected it will be really interesting to see who will come second, and how much will the League obtain in terms of votes

 

Prediction: Solid Centre-Left

 

Liguria

 

 

Liguria is the 12th most populated region of Italy. Though GDP per capita in Liguria is higher than the national average and its unemployment rate is lower, Liguria is often considered the poorest region in Northern Italy. Like in most other regions, the crisis hit hard Liguria, leading its unemployment rate to almost double in the last years of recession.

 

Politically speaking Liguria in the so called First Republic used to lean towards the Communist Party, who won a plurality of votes and seats in four of the five elections held under the proportional representation law. In the so called Second Republic Liguria has become a left-wing leaning region. Though Liguria usually leans to the left, this lean is not overwhelming like the lead that the left has in central Italy region. So, though the left has won three of the four elections held under the current electoral law, most of these elections have been quite competitive. To date however the center-right has been able to win the region only in 2000.

 

In the last years Liguria’s politics have been overshadowed by polemics over the bad  handling of natural disasters by local governments. Incumbent center-left governor, Claudio Burlando, incumbent Genoa mayor Marco Doria and former Genoa mayor Marta Vincenzi, all centre-left politicians, had to face harsh criticism and even legal troubles over their alleged neglectfulness in facing a series of environmental crisis. In the fall of 2011 a flood in Genoa caused the death of six people, and then mayor Vincenzi suddenly became  object of criticism over her decision of not closing the schools, having indirectly caused the death of a mother, who went out to take back her daughter from school and her two daughters. Few months later Vincenzi was charged for multiple culpable homicide; culpable disaster and false witness, having tried to cover up her role in the decisions that resulted in the death of six people. Vincenzi, in spite this heavy accusation, tried to run for a second term as Genoa mayor, but was defeated in primaries by Enrico Doria, who also easily won the mayoral elections.

 

In 2014, however a new flood caused again several damages in the city of Genoa, including the death of a man. Genoa mayor, Doria and governor Burlando were both heavily criticized over their ineptitude in preventing those disasters and their environmental policies. Doria was booed by citizens while visiting the neighborhoods hit by the flood.

 

The center-left primaries saw a heated and harsh internal debate, that led to a regional schism. Longtime heavy weight of the Democratic Party, Sergio Cofferati, was seen as the favourite to win the contest, but was upset by regional minister Raffaella Paita. However Cofferati didn’t recognize the result, denouncing fraud and buying and selling of votes by Paita camp. Cofferati and his loyals in the Democratic Party decided to run against Paita in the general election. In particular Cofferati accused Paita camp of having bought votes from Roma, Chinese and Moroccan immigrants. Cofferati camp then endorsed a loyal MP, Luca Pastorino, who also obtained the endorsement of minor left parties.

 

Due to the schism in the left and the rage sparked by the scandals in Genoa the right was supposed to have a shot. Early polls showed the Northern League regional leader, Edoardo Rixi, running neck and neck with Paita. But, in a surprise move, Salvini signed a deal with Berlusconi that forced the League to endorse a Forza Italia candidate in Liguria, in exchange for Forza Italia support of Zaia in Veneto. The deal was met with criticism from the League base. The candidate of Forza Italia, former journalist and current MEP Giovanni Toti, was largely seen as a very weak candidate, prompting the left to think the race was over and Paita was on course to win.

 

But few days after the announcement of the agreement between the main parties on the right, a bomb exploded. Paita was charged in court for the disastrous flood of 2014. Paita, among others, was charged in court for culprit homicide, culprit disaster and cover-up by the prosecutors investigating on the 2014 flood. Voices within the Democratic Party asked Paita to retire, but Renzi reiterated his personal support for Paita and campaigned for her. After the news of Paita trial polls showed her running neck and neck with Toti and also showed a rise in polling intentions for Alice Salvatori, the 5 Star Movement candidate. Final polls show Toti and Paita running neck and neck and pollin around 28% each, while Salvatori was rising with around 24% of voting intentions, Pastorino polling around 13% and the centrist Enrico Musso coming last with around 6%.

 

Given the rage, the weakness of the right candidate, and the fact that Liguria is Grillo home region I think that Salvatori may have a small (very small) shot to pull the upset, although most likely the election will be a tight race between Toti and Paita. This will probably be the closest region on Sunday night, with a small chance of becoming a three-way toss-up

 

Prediction: Toss-Up

 

Marche

 

Marche is the 13th most populated region of Italy. Its GDP per capita is in line with national average, and its unemployment rate is currently 10.6%, lower than national average (13.3). Some statistics pointed Marche as one of the regions that most suffered the current economic crisis. In spite of the crisis, Marche usually ranks moderately well on service statistics.

 

Politically speaking Marche used to be a swing region in the so called First Republic, with Christian Democracy and the Communist Party often coming extremely close and alternating in the role of first party of the region, with the Christian Democracy winning a plurality three times and the Communist Party winning a plurality two times, often with razor-thin margin.

 

In the so called Second Republic, Marche shifted towards the left becoming a reliable region for progressive coalition, though never being as left wing as its neighbouring Umbria; Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. 2000 elections have so far been the closest election since governors became directly elected with the centre-left winning with a 5 points margin. All other regional elections ended with double digit victories for the centre-left pole. Though often the center-right put his eyes on the region in recent years but lately have never been able to truly make the region competitive. A signal of potential change came in 2013 legislative elections, when the 5 Star Movement won a plurality of votes in the region, but the Movement have had lot of trouble confirming his national results in local elections.

 

The race became awkward when incumbent centre-left governor, Gian Mario Spacca, announced his run for a third term. Rules within the Democratic Party prohibits party members to run for a third term as governor, even if the regional law allows them to do so. Spacca, in order to run for a third term split with his party and announce his candidacy as independent. Thinking that maybe this might be a chance to finally conquer the regional government, Forza Italia and the New Center Right endorsed Spacca. But the right failed to unite behind the incumbent governor, as the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy refused to endorse Spacca, endorsing Francesco Acquaroli. The centre-left selected Luca Ceriscioli, a former mayor of Pesaro, that was endorsed by the Democratic Party, while the hard left ran its own candidate Edoardo Mentrasti. The 5 Star Movement nominated Giovanni Massi

 

This awkward and strange race might led to some surprise, though polls show a lead for Ceriscioli over Spacca close to double digit. Polls give Ceriscioli around 35% to Spacca 25% and 5 Star Movement Massi coming third with around 20%. Acquaroli, endorsed by the League and the Brothers of Italy, runs distant fourth with roughly 12% of voting intentiuons, while the hard left candidate polls around 8%. This is probably a missed chance for the center-right. If the hard right parties decided endorsed Spacca, the conservative pole might have had an historical chance, but the divisions on the right only helped the left in securing a now very likely victory. It will be interesting however to see who, between Spacca and Massi, will come second, and if the League is able to surpass Forza Italia even in a region that never gave that party good results.

 

Prediciton: Likely Centre-Left

 

Umbria

 

 

 

Umbria is the least populated among the regions that will vote on Sunday. Umbria is usually described as the poorer region from north and central Italy. Its GDP per capita is lower than the national average, and ranks 9th among twenty for unemployment rate. Though its unemployment is slightly lower than national average, is higher than all regions from northern and central Italy.

 

Politically Umbria has always been a stronghold of the Italian left. During the First Republic the Communist Party dominated local politics winning a majority or a plurality of seats in all elections under the proportional representation system. Since 1995 Umbria continued its left-wing loyalty, with centre-left candidate always winning gubernatorial elections with comfortable margins. The centre-right pole has never been able to mount a credible challenge to the left dominance in the region. Five years ago, Catiuscia Marini of the Democratic Party easily won her first term with a 20 points margin. However the severe economic crisis, that hit the region hardly, and a series of scandals might led the region to its closest contest ever. Marini has not been personally touched by scandals, but her predecessor, Maria Rita Lorenzetti, her lieutenant governor, Orfeo Goracci, and former Perugia mayor Renato Locchi have all been involved in high profile scandals of bribery and corruption. Probabily this series of scandals have been the main reason behind the shocking result in last year Perugia’s mayoral elections, that saw a conservative candidate upsetting incumbent centre-left mayor, ending seventy years of uninterrupted left-wing dominance in the region’s capital. Opinion polls show the incumbent governor lead’s over conservative Assisi mayor, Claudio Ricci, who has been able to coalesce all right of centre parties behind him, has decreased to lower single digits in most recent polls. The scandals and the challenge of the hard left, which has its own candidate, and the 5 Star Movement, might help Ricci in creating the closest race Umbria has ever witnessed. Though it’s the smallest of the seven region voting on Sunday, it might be extremely important for the left to hold this historical stronghold. If the right pulls the upset, ending fourty-five years of leftist hegemony, it might sign the end for Renzi’s government.

 

Prediction: Leaning Centre-Left

 

Venice mayoral election

Alongside the seven regions, lots of municipalities will vote to renew their mayor and their city council. The most important among the municipalities is Venice, the capital of Veneto.

 

While Veneto has always been a conservative stronghold, allergic to the left in both the First and Second republic, its capital has an extremely different electoral behavior, due to its particular social and demographic composition. In the so called First Republic, Venice used to swing between the Christian Democracy and the Communist Party. The Communist Party strength in the region capital, in relation to its weakness in the region overall was probably due to support from blue collar workers in Mestre and Marghera,  seats of large petrochemical industry. While blue-collar workers are now no more the main constituent of Italian centre-left, their number decreased in the 90’s while state employees and retirees, who have replaced blue-collars as the main constituents of Italian centre-left, now compose around 60% of the voting age population in the city

 

In the 90’s with the beginning of the so called Second Republic, Venice became a stronghold of the centre-left. In the last twenty years Venice has been a red stain in an overwhelming conservative region. Massimo Cacciari, a centre-left philosopher, won the first direct mayoral election in 1993 and again in 1997. In 2000, when Cacciari resigned to run for governor, his protégé Paolo Costa easily won the election in a runoff over conservative candidate Brunetta. 2005 was the closest election the city of Venice faced since the beginning of direct mayoral elections. Although the runoff was not between right and left, but between to left-wing candidates. Cacciari came back and defeat fellow centre-left member Felice Casson by a razor-thin margin, mainly thanks to conservative voters who, in the runoff opted for him against Casson, perceived as too extreme. Cacciari however declined to run in 2010, and endorsed Piergiorgio Orsoni, former president of the Venice University. Orsoni, who was also endorsed by the centrist UDC, won the municipal election with an eight points margin over conservative Brunetta.

 

One year ago Orsoni was arrested due to his involvement in a bribery scandal, algonside former conservative governor Galan. Several other members of the Democratic Party, like former president of Venice province, Zoggia, were largely involved in the scandal. The “Venice system” quickly became a national embarrassment for the Democratic Party. One of the businessmen charged with bribery stated to prosecutors he corrupted all Venice major political figures in the last twenty years, almost all belong to the Democratic Party.

 

Additionally to the corruption scandal several journalistic inquiries denounced the urban decay of Venice. Photos of foreign tourists, urinating, pooping and even having sex in public in the city, were published by local newspapers in the summer of 2014, and quickly rose to national prominence.

 

Another inquiry that exposed the city corruption started over the horrible Calatrava bridge that links the train station to the town. The bridge became the subject of jokes and protests, due to its high costs, slipperies and awfulness. The bridge costed almost 13 million euros, the double of what was prevented at the beginning. The personal salary of Calatrava, around 4 million Euros, was also object of an inquiry with Calatrava himself being put on trial. The bridge was also severly criticized for the fact of being slippery. Several people slipped on the bridge, sometimes even get injured.

 

Trying to walk away from the now toxic legacy of Orsoni and Cacciari, the Democratic Party recalled Felice Casson, the runner up of 2005 elections. Casson, a former prosecutor turned politicians has always been a vocal critic of the Cacciari system, and has tried to pose as a new clean face for the now slandered venetian centre-left. The centre-right was unable to coalesce around a single candidate. Forza Italia and the New Centre Right endorsed the president of the local basketball team, Luigi Brugnaro. The politically independent Brugnaro is, according to pollsters the most likely rival of Casson in a potential runoff. The League split between two candidates, Francesca Zacariotto, a former Venice province president and former League member, who was endorsed the Brothers of Italy, while the League endorsed economist Gian Angelo Bellati, known for his separatist opinions. The 5 Star Movement endorsed Davide Scano.

Felice Casson is considered the front-runner according to polls, but he might face a runoff. Due to what happened last year in Perugia, Livorno and Padua, where left-wing front-runners where upset by challengers from the right or the 5 Star Movement, Renzi came to Venice to campaign for Casson, repeatedly stating that Casson must win in the first round and avoid a potentially dangerous runoff with Brugnaro. In case of a runoff, things might turn dangerous for the front-runner

Prediction: Leaning Centre-Left

Guest Post: Netherlands Provincial elections 2015

I am unfortunately unable to blog at all myself while in Colombia, but I am very fortunate to have received this fantastic guest post on last month’s provincial elections in the Netherlands from an avid reader of this blog, ‘nimh’, who blogs at observationalism.com and tweets as @almodozo. Thanks for your work!

Time permitting, I’d like to do some blogging myself, notably a belated look at last month’s French departmental elections, and other elections down the road in Canada and the UK. But I wouldn’t count on it!

Unprecedented fragmentation, a weakened government that will have to go in search for further allies to keep functioning, and a new record low for the Labour Party. Those were the main features of the outcome of last month’s provincial elections, on March 18, which determined not just the make-up of provincial legislatures but also the Dutch Senate.
Because of the continuing collapse of the Labour Party (Dutch acronym: PvdA), the results also constituted the worst performance for the left overall in provincial elections since 1994, while centrist parties — the Democrats ’66, a party for the elderly and various regional lists — did well.

Pacifying the Senate: Why provincial elections are important

Provincial elections don’t make for the most popular ballot in the Netherlands. Turnout in the last national elections was 74.6%; in last year’s municipal elections it was 54.0%; but in these provincial elections just 47.8% of voters cast their ballot. Only the European elections are less popular — last year turnout in those was 37.3%. It’s not that the issues provincial legislatures deal with are unimportant: especially in a densely populated, waterlogged environment like the Netherlands, their decisive influence on urban planning, environmental protection, energy policy, transport and water management is crucial; but admittedly not particularly exciting. The largely consensual policy making processes at provincial level also preclude the kind of heated ideological antagonisms that will bring out the troops. But there is another reason why the provincial elections are very important — especially so right now.

That’s because the provincial legislatures in turn elect the members of the national Senate (“Eerste Kamer”). The Senate’s role is to scrutinize laws adopted in the main chamber of parliament (“Tweede Kamer”) before they are implemented, and although it doesn’t reject laws often, when it does it tends to cause a ruckus. More than one government has been brought to the edge of collapse when a key piece of legislation stranded in the Senate.

The make-up of the Senate is particularly salient right now. The current government, a coalition of the business- and market-friendly liberals of the VVD and the center-left Labour Party, does not have a majority in the Senate; their parties control just 30 of 75 seats. From the start, major parts of the government coalition agreement were shot down by the Senate, for example expansive pension reforms and a far-reaching plan to introduce income-dependent health care insurance premiums.

To avoid running into one crisis after another, the government parties conducted regular talks with opposition parties, and there are plenty of them. A total of twelve parties are represented in the Senate, and the two government parties eventually arrived at a formal deal with three opposition parties (the so-called “C3”). These three — the centrist Democrats 66 (D66) and two small socially conservative protestant parties, the Christian Union and the SGP — provide “constructive” support in the Senate for the coalition’s extensive labour market, education and health care reforms and the deep budget cuts it pursues in the name of austerity. Having them on board creates a majority of exactly one: 38 to 37 seats.

D66 activists celebrate on election night. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, licensed under Creative Commons

D66 activists celebrate on election night. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, licensed under Creative Commons

When relying on such a narrow margin, it’s no surprise that things fall apart ever so often. A government proposal to cut pensions for elderly people who move in with their children was shot down by the small christian parties. A housing law that will significantly raise rents for many people almost stranded when one rebellious Labour Senator who threatened to vote against was only assuaged in time for a midnight vote. The government and “constructive opposition” parties therefore looked with trepidation to these new provincial elections, which were set to change the numbers once more. Polling had long made it clear that the two government parties would suffer heavy losses. But would the C3 parties — in particular D66 — expand their support sufficiently to compensate for those losses and secure a continued razor-edge margin in the Senate?

Because of the complex indirect election of the Senate, that question remains open; only in May will the newly inaugurated provincial legislators elect the new Senators. But it’s not looking good for the government and its partners. The five parties by themselves are not projected to get over 36 Senate seats. Even though a motley collection of regional interest parties are busily being recruited to help elect government-friendly Senators, the election result makes it almost certain that the government will have to seek agreements with further opposition parties, for example the Christian-Democratic Appeal (CDA) or the Green Left, to pass any further contentious policies. The traditional election night debate, in which the leaders of the main parties sit around a table in the TV studio to collectively evaluate the election results — a Dutch oddity, perhaps — revolved entirely around this question: who would join with whom at what price?

Bewildering fragmentation cloaks a right-ward shift

Before we get to that, though, let’s back up the truck. What does Dutch politics look like?

Most of all, the election result was marked by an unprecedented fragmentation of the political party landscape. Not a single party received over 16% of the vote. Never before was the largest party this small.

Detailed overall results of the provincial elections. Source: Sum of official results by province.

In the end, Prime Minister Rutte’s VVD succeeded in edging out the oppositional CDA, but only just, by 15.9% to 14.7%. At one moment on election night, when it seemed the CDA was slightly ahead, Rutte somewhat cheekily remarked that “there’s no country in the world where the largest party is so small”. That must at least be close to true. The only equivalent I can think of in recent European elections was when elections for the Polish Sejm in 1991 saw no party get more than 12% of the vote, but then the Sejm had a tradition to uphold. The Economist wittily headlined its report on the elections “Dutch voters punish their two governing parties by voting for the 10 other ones”. There is something to that: other than Labour and the VVD, the only party to lose ground since the last provincial elections was the Green Left. Everyone else enjoyed gains.

This somewhat bewildering fragmentation in election results is fairly new. The Dutch parliament always lent itself well to the representation of small parties, since there is no electoral threshold and MPs are elected on national lists rather than in individual constituencies. A seat is secured by getting as little as 0.67% of the national vote. There has been a corresponding multitude of parliamentary parties. But only a few of them stood out: the christian-democratic party (at least since three christian parties merged in the mid-1970s), the Labour Party, and the VVD, as main liberal party.

Last month’s provincial election results in detailed historical perspective. The Socialist Party (SP) is in dark red, the Labour Party in bright red, the centrist D66 party in light blue, the christian-democrats in dark green, the right-wing liberal VVD in dark blue, and the Freedom Party in orange-brown. Data sourced from verkiezingsuitslagen.nl, the offical state election results portal, with added detail derived from the painstakingly comprehensive nlverkiezingen.com.

Last month’s provincial election results in detailed historical perspective. The Socialist Party (SP) is in dark red, the Labour Party in bright red, the centrist D66 party in light blue, the christian-democrats in dark green, the right-wing liberal VVD in dark blue, and the Freedom Party in orange-brown. Data sourced from verkiezingsuitslagen.nl, the offical state election results portal, with added detail derived from the painstakingly comprehensive nlverkiezingen.com.

When I grew up, people voted overwhelmingly for one of those three parties. D66 existed but was mostly a minor party which enjojyed occasional surges, and any other parties that got parliamentary representation were colloquially grouped together as “the small left” or “the small right”. In 1981, the three main parties occupied 68 of the 75 Senate seats. In the past four years they had 41. Now they’re set to get 33.

The Economist argued, however, that this fragmented landscape masks a fair amount of ideological stability:

The Dutch case is especially confusing because, while voters have turned against the government, they have not actually turned to the right or left. Since 2012 the Netherlands has been ruled by a grand coalition of the centre-right Liberals and the centre-left Labour Party. [..] Because the government is centrist, opposition to its policies has scattered voters in every direction.

I’m not too sure about this; I think the results of these elections indicated an actual ideological shift as well — to the right. At the same time, when looking at the broader evolution of the political landcape over the past several election cycles, they at least confirmed how centrifugal forces have pulled voters away from the mainstream, centrist parties, but that will come up further down in this post. First, let’s focus on the evidence of a right-ward shift.

When Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer boasted on election night that his party was “now definitely the largest on the left,” that may have been true, but that still only made it the fifth-largest party, behind not just the VVD and Christian-Democrats, but also D66 and the far-right Freedom Party. The Labour Party’s Lodewijk Asscher pointed out that “if you see the state of the left in the Netherlands now, there’s no reason for cheers,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Together, the Socialists, Labour, the Green Left, the Party for the Animals (yes, there is a Party for the Animals, and it has seats in parliament) and a few tiny left-wing parties that are only active regionally pooled just under 31% of the vote. That’s the lowest such share in provincial elections since 1995, and lower than any national election result since 2002, which was sui generis.

For the Labour Party, specifically, this was a horrendous election result. The 10.1% of the vote it managed to pull (which, hard to believe as it is, meant actually slightly outperforming the polls) was the smallest share of the vote it has ever gotten in provincial elections. Just like last year’s municipal elections saw the party get the worst result it had ever gotten in those. The party’s fall from grace has been a long time in coming, as the party has been on a trendline of decline since the mid-1980s when it still habitually got a third of the votes. At the same time it still arrived quite suddenly, as the party was momentarily resurgent in national elections just three years ago, when it rebounded to 25% of the vote.

Nothing much seems to have changed since I wrote about the party’s tactical dilemma last year, after the municipal elections:

The Labour Party is in an impossible strategic situation: it suffers an exodus of voters to both D66 and the [Socialist Party (SP)], but those voters, demographically, are each other’s opposites and are leaving the Labour Party for opposite reasons. The voters who have headed, and keep heading, to the SP feel that the Labour Party has lost its left-wing soul. They tend to be gloomy about the country’s economy as well as their own financial perspectives, look to the government to shore up the social protections of the welfare state, and be angry that the Labour Party is instead “selling out” to the VVD, to big business, to the EU. But the voters which are deserting the party for D66 are fairly optimistic about the economy and their own perspective, warmly favour EU integration, and might only be afraid of the country “missing the boat” by not demonstrating enough dynamism and adaptability. [..] The net result is that any move the Labour Party might make to win back the voters on one side will likely just further increase its bleeding on the other side.

See: Of sideshows, curiosities and structural changes: Everything you ever wanted to know about this year’s local elections in the Netherlands (and probably quite a bit more)

One could argue that the left, and the Labour Party in particular, has been here before. The 1994 (national) and 1991 (provincial) elections didn’t go any better for them, as the chart above shows. But there are two differences between then and now:

  • Like now, the weak result for the left in 1991 and 1994 were coupled with particularly strong results for D66 (about 15.5% then, 12.5% now). But today’s D66 is quite a different party from what it was like back then. Traditionally, D66 is a center-left party of social liberals, which strongly emphasized good governance and democratic reforms like introducing referenda, an elected Prime Minister, elected mayors, and a district-based electoral system. The party was instrumental in pushing through major legislative changes that better reflected the country’s secular character, for example on gay marriage and euthanasia but also Sunday shopping. In terms of socio-economic policy, it distanced itself from what it saw as social-democracy’s overly dirigistic tendencies, but generally steered a left-liberal course comparable to, for example, that of Britain’s Liberals and SDP. But the party has shifted rightward significantly over the past fifteen years, notably propping up a right-wing government in 2003–2006. It now presents itself primarily as a champion of (neoliberal) economic reforms.
  • Labour is a different party from what it used to be as well. Back when its then-leader Wim Kok made a push to de-ideologize Labour in the early 1990s it may not have pleased the more left-wing parts of his party, but the “purple” governments he lead between 1994 and 2002 coupled tax cuts as gifts to the right with public investments and employment programs to please the left. Now there is a again a left-right government, but they’re divvying up costs rather than spending, which makes for altogether harsher policies. On election night, Labour Party leader Diederik Samson defensively but proudly declared that this government has implemented the deepest set of budget cuts of any government so far.

As a result, even when compared to the equally dismal electoral results of the left in the early 1990s, the substance of political discourse and policy has shifted to the right.

Doing the rounds: an overview of each party’s performance

Prime Minister Rutte comforted his party by remarking that its losses had been smaller than feared. The result “looks wonderful when you compare it with a year ago,” he said. Which seems a bit overstated: in the European elections last May and the local elections last March, the VVD received 12% of the vote; now it got 16%. The extremely low turnout in those European elections (37%) and the high share of the vote taken by local parties in the municipal elections (28%) also made them ill-suited for comparative purposes. For what it’s worth, a year ago the VVD was polling at 13–17% of the vote; this year, just weeks before the elections, the VVD hit something of a low in the opinion polls of — depending which pollster you trust — 11–17%. The end result looks only slightly favorable in that context; it is pretty much in line with where the party has been polling for the last year and a half.

The proportion between polls and election result was roughly the same for the Labour Party. For all the detail about just how horrible its result was, at least it leaned toward the upper end of the range (7–11%) foreseeen by the polls for the past year or so.

The christian-democratic CDA and its leader, Sybrand Buma, were oddly triumphant about their election result (14.7%). Sure, it’s a fair way back up from the disastrous 8.5% of the vote the party pulled in the national elections of 2012 — easily its worst election result ever. But it’s only six-tenth of a percentage point better than the last provincial elections, four years ago — and that had been the party’s worst provincial election result since it was founded in the 1970s. It was also worse than its result in last year’s European elections, if only by a sliver, and barely better than its result in last year’s local elections, when it got 14.4% of the vote even as local parties took over a quarter of the total vote. It seems like a score of around 15% might be the new normal for the party right now — and considering that the CDA or one or more of its predecessor parties were represented in the national government for an unbroken run of 76 years (1918–1994), that’s really not very impressive.

While touting his party’s strong performance, Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders did express some disappointment that it didn’t end up first, as had seemed possible for a while. For four-five months ahead of the provincial elections, the party had been leading the pack in two of the three national election polls. It had always been clear that this national polling would not necessarily translate into an equivalent result in provincial elections though, given the lower turnout. Moreover, the party’s standing had noticably slipped during the election campaign, as the two governing parties recovered slightly and the Socialist Party made some minor gains.

In the end, the Freedom Party almost exactly replicated its performance in the last provincial elections, again getting 12% of the vote. One aspect of this result which wasn’t mentioned much in the media coverage, however, is that this helped the party seats-wise. After all, it was just last year that around one in six Freedom Party provincial legislators abandoned the party after Wilders’ ill-advised remarks at the party’s rally on the night of the municipal elections, when he made his followers chant that they wanted “fewer, fewer” Moroccans in the country.

The campaign team of D66 leader Pechtold made sure, American campaign-style, that the TV coverage of the party’s election night rally would show him surrounded by a group of young and somewhat multicultural party members. Things were a little more awkward at the Labour Party rally.

The campaign team of D66 leader Pechtold made sure, American campaign-style, that the TV coverage of the party’s election night rally would show him surrounded by a group of young and somewhat multicultural party members. Things were a little more awkward at the Labour Party rally.

What must have smarted though was that the party ended up finishing fourth, behind the Democrats ‘66, whose leader Alexander Pechtold is a frequent and fierce critic of Wilders. With this result D66 successfully followed up on last year’s results, when it already became the third-largest party nationwide in municipal politics. It was the party’s best result in provincial or national elections since 1994 — only in last year’s European elections did it do even better. That’s an impressive achievement especially since, in the interim, the party had dropped to a dismal 2.0% of the vote in the 2006 national elections. I can’t find nationwide election results for the 1970 and 1982 local elections, but this result seems to be the party’s fourth-best ever, in any kind of elections.

The Socialist Party (SP) performed well — certainly better than in last year’s municipal elections, when it also made significant gains in the number of seats it won but its nationwide share of the vote was limited to 6.6%. This time it won 11.7% of the vote, gaining two percentage points when compared to the national elections of 2012 and 1.5% compared to the previous provincial elections. A healthy score, no doubt — its second best ever in provincial elections. And yet one can’t help wondering if it also doesn’t represent a lost opportunity. The party’s main rival, the Labour Party, collapsed, losing a whopping 15% or so from its result less than three years ago — and yet the SP improved on its own score by a mere fraction of that amount. It’s not that it didn’t win a good amount of votes from Labour, it’s that D66 and the Green Left shared equally in those spoils, and many of the SP’s own voters from 2012 abstained this time (see below). Moreover, according to data by Maurice de Hond, about a third of the previous SP voters who did turn out scattered their votes across a range of other parties this time — primarily the Freedom Party, the Party for the Animals, regional parties and, perhaps surprisingly, the christian-democrats.

The small christian parties, the Christian Union and the SGP, performed strongly as always in low-turnout elections, thanks to their disciplined electorate. In the past four provincial elections, they pooled 6–9% of the vote, and this year’s score (7.5%) falls right in the middle of that range. In national elections, however, they will doubtlessly drop back to their usual, pooled 5–6% of the vote.

The result of the Green Left was, just like last year, ambiguous. The 5.4% of the vote it received constitutes something of a resurrection for a party that collapsed so completely in the 2012 elections, getting just 2.3% of the vote, that its obituaries were already being written. But it’s still the party’s worst result in provincial elections since 1994, down a percentage point compared to the last provincial elections, and not a tenth of a percentage point better than its score in last year’s municipal elections, despite the fact that local and regional parties took a much larger chunk of the vote then.

figure3

Two pollsters published contradictory numbers about where the 2012 Labour Party voters went this time. On election night, public television cited exit poll results from Ipsos suggesting that, of those who switched votes, 34% went to the GreenLeft, 29% to the SP, and 20% to D66, but unfortunately those data don’t seem to be available online. Maurice de Hond’s polling data shows quite a different picture: of all 2012 Labour voters who voted again now, 36% stuck with their party, 19% went to the SP, 9% to D66, and just 8% to the Green Left.

In general, Ipsos polling data which is available online suggest that the Freedom Party and the Labour party suffered most from abstention, which is not unusual, but the VVD suffered particularly from a failure to turn out its electorate as well, which is less common. In addition, the Labour party saw by far the highest rate of voters coming out to vote but only to switch to another party. As always, the orthodox protestant SGP suffered least from both — but then there’s a reason why the party has had either 2 or 3 seats in parliament since 1925.

What now, little lion land?                  

At the traditional election night debate with the party leaders, each one of them of course hurried to emphasize the positive. As always, winners gloated over their gains, those who didn’t win or lose any particularly great amount stressed how they’d recovered from prior losses, and those who clearly lost asserted that the losses hadn’t been as bad as feared and ground had been recovered during the campaign, even as they contritely admitted that things should have gone better.

But what struck me most was that none of the party leaders other than the SP’s Emile Roemer (the Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders was absent) called for a radical change of course. The government parties regretted not having been able to persuade enough voters, but insisted that they had done what was necessary, even when it was not popular, and there was no alternative to forging ahead. The constructive opposition insisted on staying the course and only making changes to the extent that further speed and determination were needed in the economic reforms. If anything, we’d like to move policies further to the right, the SGP leader said. Work on tax reforms must start immediately, D66 leader Pechtold demanded, but should not threaten balanced budgets. Which means, though he left it unmentioned, that those tax cuts will have to be offset by further budget cuts (something the Labour Party election campaign at least called them out on).

The leaders of opposition parties CDA and Green Left also demanded policy changes, of course, but they, too, highlighted that they were ready to help think through the necessary reforms, to support constructive policies, to take responsibility, and so forth. All in all, in addition to seeming near-collectively wedded to some degree of neoliberal policy as a self-evident necessity, the leaders of opposition and government parties alike seemed to get along fine, in a discussion characterized by friendly banter and a collective attitude along the lines of “we’re in this together and we’ll just have to work this out together”. When there was a bit of occasional showboating, all present seemed to be aware it wasn’t to be taken literally — like when opposition leaders vowed to not take part any back room talks and Prime Minister Rutte reminded them that they already took part in regular behind-the-scenes discussions.

All of this is very much a reflection of the norms and conventions of Dutch political culture. Nevertheless, it is also revealing about the political perspectives of the parties involved. D66 leader Pechtold is on record, after all, as calling his party “his Majesty’s most loyal opposition”. The Economist would argue that this behavior is merely a reflection of the fact that voters sent a fairly ambiguous message:

Much of the voters’ frustration stems from austerity measures the government has enacted over the past two years, such as cuts in health benefits and hikes in excise taxes. But the elections have actually strengthened the political forces demanding austerity. Both D66 and the Christian Democrats insist that the government commit in advance to new deficit-cutting measures to balance out any tax cuts.

This seems a little too convenient though. D66 is riding high, and the CDA made gains at least compared to the last national elections. But the christian-democrats are still at a near-historic low; the Labour Party is at an all-time historic low; the VVD got its worst result in provincial elections in almost 25 years; and the small christian parties got around the same level of support they always get. The mainstream parties, having over time converged onto a consensual commitment to austerity, are collectively doing worse than at any time in Dutch political history. Together, VVD + Labour + CDA + D66 + the small christian parties pooled just over 60% of the vote, an all-time low. In 2012, it was 73%; in 2003 it was 82%; and in 1989 it was 94%.

The parties that have most vocally opposed the government’s austerity policies, i.e. the far-left Socialist Party, the far-right Freedom Party, the Party for the Animals and the senior-interest party 50Plus, may individually have increased their vote by just two percentage points compared to 2012, but each of them did gain 2 points, meaning that together they pooled 30% of the vote compared with 24% two years ago — and 17% at the provincial elections of 2007, before the global economic crisis. The Dutch electorate is increasingly alienated from the mainstream political discourse, and yet there was little hint of a crisis at the party leaders debate.

Aside from the Socialist Party’s Roemer, who accused the government of having failed and leaving many people struggling to get by, the only party leader to express any fundamental disagreement was Marianne Thieme from the Party for the Animals. She pleaded for an economic reorientation away from the logic of growth, and remarked that the substantive differences between all the other parties had come to seem small. But she was gently chided by the Christian Union’s Arie Slob: if ideological differences seemed small right now, he told her, it was because with over 600 thousand unemployed “we’ll just have to set aside our differences”. Of course, Thieme, Roemer and maybe even Wilders would probably argue that if the course which the country has been on has lead to over 600 thousand unemployed, maybe the logical response might not necessarily be for all parties to join in and lend a helping hand, but rather to call for a drastic break and start pulling a different way altogether.

There is at least one Labour politician who also feels that way: Adri Duivesteijn, the Senator who almost brought the government down over its housing policy package. The party’s election result should “at least be reason to take another look at yourself and ask yourself whether it is sensible to continue on the line we have followed over the past two years.” You have to wonder, he added, “if it’s still the Labour Party that’s standing there, or just a few people who have tasked themselves with a mission.”

An SP-friendly political cartoon. Labour leader Samson is wielding the wrecking ball, demolishing the health care system. Socialist leader Roemer is coming running, calling out at him to stop. Samson responds by saying: you guys are just yelling from the sidelines. At least we are taking our responsibility.

An SP-friendly political cartoon. Labour leader Samson is wielding the wrecking ball, demolishing the health care system. Socialist leader Roemer is coming running, calling out at him to stop. Samson responds by saying: you guys are just yelling from the sidelines. At least we are taking our responsibility.

Duivesteijn has little to lose in staking out this position: he has been diagnosed with prostrate cancer at an advanced stage, and will be retiring in May. But at least Labour’s former voters agree with him. When looking at a longer-term perspective than just the gains and losses compared to the last elections, polling data released this week by Maurice de Hond suggested that Labour has lost a lot more ground among working class voters who feel resentful about the dismantling of the welfare state than among the confident middle class voters who are currently gravitating towards D66. It has also lost them more thoroughly.

Dividing up the Dutch electorate between people who would now vote, or at least consider voting, Labour (17%); people who have at some point in the past voted Labour but would not consider it anymore now (24%); and those who never voted Labour and wouldn’t now (59%), the poll found large differences between the former two groups. Those who abandoned Labour are much more likely to have lower education levels: 41% of this group has only lower education, versus 15% of those who’d still consider voting Labour. An overwhelming majority of them (80% or more) agrees with the statements “I don’t know what the Labour Party stands for anymore”, “The Labour Party is betraying its ideals” and “the Labour Party is abandoning the weakest in society”. Of those who still vote, 32% of them now vote SP and 15% for the Freedom Party. And none of the three alternative Labour Party leaders whom de Hond asked about would bring more than 13% of them back.

Meanwhile, the immediate aftermath of the provincial elections has seen some distinct shifts in the polls. The VVD has been making the most gains since it came first in the elections — everyone likes a winner — but D66 has had to yield some ground. The Freedom Party has been losing support, but the Socialists have gained some.

At provincial level, not a whole lot is expected to change in government. As is the case with many municipal governments, the “executive councils” that serve as provincial governments tend to consist of wide-ranging coalitions that include most or even all the major parties. The VVD was part of 11 of the 12 provincial executives in the last four years, and the CDA was represented in 10 of the 12. That’s how you can have provincial governments that include both the VVD and the Green Left (in Utrecht) or both the VVD and the Socialist Party (in South-Holland and North-Brabant). As a result, ideological contrasts are downplayed — much more so, still, than in national politics. In the past four years only Overijssel had an executive with only right-of-center parties (VVD, CDA and the small christian parties).

An informational billboard for the provincial elections with posters for the different parties. The Freedom Party one features Geert Wilders and the slogan Enough Is Enough; the Socialist Party’s slogan could be loosely translated as Settle The Score. D66 has been running with the slogan Now, Forward, while the Party for the Animals appeals to voters to Stick To Your Ideals. Photo by Patrick Rasenberg, licensed under Creative Commons.

An informational billboard for the provincial elections with posters for the different parties. The Freedom Party one features Geert Wilders and the slogan Enough Is Enough; the Socialist Party’s slogan could be loosely translated as Settle The Score. D66 has been running with the slogan Now, Forward, while the Party for the Animals appeals to voters to Stick To Your Ideals. Photo by Patrick Rasenberg, licensed under Creative Commons.

Judging on early negotiation results, the main difference in the upcoming period will be that Labour will be represented in fewer provincial governments, and the SP in more. The Socialists, so far included in just two of them, will now be part of six. Labour, still represented in eleven of the twelve provincial governments in 2003, are now down to five.

In the northern province of Friesland it will be the first time since 1946 that Labour will not be included in the provincial executive. The VVD, on the other hand, despite its losses, will remain included in 11 provinces, and the christian-democrats even look set to be part in all 12. D66 are likely to take part in eight.

The occasional inclusion of even parties as far left or right as the Socialists or the Freedom Party in provincial government also leads to some idiosyncrasies in how provincial parties position themselves — something which, due to the low profile of provincial politics, will likely go unnoticed by their own voters. If you scrutinize a voter test for the province of South-Holland, for example, you will find that the Socialist Party there stakes out positions to the right of both the Green Left and the Labour Party on 8 of the 30 questions, ranging from budget cuts to the environment and asylum-seekers. Especially the first seems pretty atypical, but might well have to do with the party’s inclusion in provincial government there.

Some provincial politicians choose instead to avoid taking a public position on anything much altogether. In Gelderland there was a provincial legislator from the Freedom Party who managed to not utter a single word for the full four years he served — a record, apparently. Perhaps he was following the example of a municipal councilor in the same province back in the 1990s. Henny Selhorst, serving as a councilor for the more radically far-right (and misleadingly named) Centre Democrats in Arnhem, managed to utter a full seven words during the four years of his term, six of which he spoke during the opening session. Selhorst had something of an excuse at least, though, since he spent a total of two of those four years in prison, for two succesive arrests over dealing hard drugs.

Age, income and education

Class cleavages may not determine election outcomes as much as they once did, but they still played an important role, voting patterns by income and education reveal. Both exit poll data by Ipsos and separate polling data by Maurice de Hond confirmed that the VVD, D66 and Green Left do particularly well among those with higher education, and VVD and D66 (but not the Green Left) also do particularly well among higher income voters. Vice versa, the Freedom Party and the Socialist party did especially well among lower education voters and among voters with lower incomes.

Because of the fragmentation of the vote, no party holds much of a dominion over a specific income or education group. Even the VVD’s dominance among upper income voters isn’t what it used to be: it received about a quarter to a third of those voters, experiencing marked competition from D66 and the Christian-Democrats.

Patterns become a little more clear, however, when we group the multitude of competing parties in a few broad categories. The traditionally obvious route is to identify left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties. This is what the data from de Hond looks like when grouping the vote by income category between left, right and center:

figure4

Data for this (and the following) charts are from polling by Maurice de Hond

For this chart, I’ve grouped the Socialist Party, the Green Left, the Party for the Animals and the Labour Party together as left-wing — based on history as much as policy, since Labour might not be currently implementing left-wing policies in government but is nevertheless intrinsically identified with the left-of-center camp. The centrist category encompasses D66, 50Plus and the regional parties (which of course vary in ideological orientation, but average out in the center). The right covers the VVD, CDA, Freedom Party and the small christian parties. (It’s become fairly accepted to classify the Christian Union as centrist rather than right-wing, despite its socially conservative positions, but since the SGP and Christian Union ran common lists in some provinces it’s impractical to divide up their vote between the two categories.)

The result is obvious enough: the left does better the lower the income group, the right does better the higher the incomes. Note, though, that even among lower income voters the left is barely ahead.

Support for the right among lower income voters, however, is quite different in nature from that among the upper income electorate. 32% of upper income voters opted for the VVD, according to de Hond’s poll, and just 6% for the Freedom Party. The proportions among lower income voters were somewhat inverted: a fairly modest 14% for the Freedom Party, but just 7% for the VVD. There are similar contradictions among the left — the Socialist overwhelmingly relies on lower income groups (getting 20% of the lower income vote and just 3% of the upper income vote), but support for the Labour Party and the Party for the Animals is more evenly spread.

Another categorisation might therefore be useful. This one, for example:

figure5

This breakdown, which tentatively groups together the Freedom Party, the Socialist Party, the Party for the Animals and 50Plus as anti-system parties of sorts, presents an alternative contrast of where the dividing lines by class lie. Upper income groups feel comfortable with what one could call the ruling policy consensus and vote disproportionately for the liberal parties, and more broadly with parties on the center-right. The sentiment starts tipping among lower middle income voters, whose vote is as likely to go to the Freedom Party (14%) or Socialist Party (13%) as to the VVD or CDA (13% each). The alienation from mainstream politics is pitched more sharply among lower income voters, among whom the Socialists rank first and the Freedom Party second.

A similar breakdown by education mostly shows the same contrast. One wrinkle is the role of the center-left parties (Labour and the Green Left). Both of those parties appeal most to voters with low incomes, but also most to those with higher education.

figure6

If these contrasts by income and education seem stark, they weren’t actually at their most pointed. In similar polling by de Hond a little over a year ago, the Freedom Party and Socialist Party alone already pooled a massive 56% of lower education voters versus just 16% of higher education voters. Vice versa, the liberal parties VVD and D66 then pooled an identically massive 56% of higher income voters, versus just 12% of lower income voters. That’s a serious class divide, which I would argue places a time bomb of sorts under the Dutch governance model if it is left to fester.

Breakdowns by age group are also interesting — as much for the patterns that don’t appear as for the ones that do. Remarkably, breaking down the vote for left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, per de Hond’s data, shows little variation by age group at all:

figure7

That’s a striking result in itself, especially since it has definitely not always been like that. It poses some uncomfortable questions especially for the left, which has long relied on young voters to bolster its successive challenges to the status quo.

The Labour Party’s electorate in particular has long been aging, and the party is now actually strongest among those aged 65 and up, according to both the Ipsos and de Hond data. But the Socialist Party’s appeal to the youth is similarly lacking. Much like the Freedom Party, it seems to rely largely on middle-aged voters, showing particular strength among those aged 45–64.

In part, this could be a reflection of how insecure people in that age group, in particular, feel about the state of the economy and the country’s social services. Unlike young people, they might be especially aware of how dependent they will be on the latter soon enough, and unlike young people, those in that age group who are unemployed, underemployed, or fearful of being either will have less confidence about future growth and opportunities solving it all.

Regrouping the political categories might seem to bolster this theory. The liberal parties are well over-represented in the youngest age groups, while the vote for the anti-system parties (for lack of a better label) peaks in the age group approaching retirement. This too should constitute a warning sign for the left: in stark contrast with countries like Spain and Greece where the youth has been spearheading leftist revolts against right-wing economic policies, in the Netherlands the generation that grew up with austerity seems to feel pretty comfortable with it. A critic might speculate that this is a reflection of how today’s youth has been told by politicians, pundits and the press alike that there is no alternative for as long as they can remember.

figure8

In fact, the patterns in these breakdowns by age could also be interpreted as a reflection of the age in which voters experienced their formative years. A fascinating data visualization by the New York Times last year chronicled the voting behavior of each generation of white U.S. voters as they aged, showing a surprising continuity in preferences that seem to have solidified at an early age. “Events at age 18 are about three times as powerful as those at age 40,” the Times’ model suggested. Thus, “by the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, people born in the early 1940s had accumulated pro-Republican sentiment that would last their entire lifetimes” and “Childhoods and formative years under Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon left [baby boomers] relatively pro-Democratic”.

Applying that theory to the Dutch data, it’s interesting that the polling numbers by de Hond don’t just show support for the Socialists peaking among 45–64 year olds, they also show the Party for the Animals doing best among 55–65 year olds — and while the Green Left generally gets weaker the older voters are, there’s a distinct uptick in its support among that same 55–65 age group. Similarly, the Ipsos data show the Socialists overperforming by far the most among 50–64 year olds. And Ipsos, too, shows the Green Left doing best among the youngest voters, but 50–64 year olds as the only other age group among which it overperforms. All of which would make some sense from the perspective of the New York Times piece. After all, these are the people who grew up in the 1970s, maybe early 1980s — and those are generally seen as the most left-wing years of Holland’s post-war history.

figure9

By the same count, of course, this would mean that the current crop of 18–35 year olds is set to retain an inclination towards liberal parties for most of their life, and the relative lack of enthusiasm of voters under 45 for socialist/social-democratic parties isn’t going to change significantly anymore either as they grow old.

Political geography

figure10

Map based on official results by municipality, which can be downloaded as spreadsheet from the Electoral Council site.

 

The electoral map is as fragmented, but also as revealing, as the overall result. As colorful as the whole is, the west of the country is a sea of liberal blue; many rural areas in south, east and west remain christian-democratic green; and there is a notable dearth of socialist/social-democratic red.

The centrist D66 scored a hat-trick, coming first in three of the four main cities (Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht), just like it did in last year’s municipal elections. It also came out on top in the university cities Leiden and Delft, the medium-sized cities of Haarlem, Gouda and Amersfoort, and the commuter town Culemborg. But the party’s appeal remains firmly rooted in the cities of the West, or what the Dutch call the Randstad.

In Rotterdam, the country’s second-largest city and the world’s third-largest port, first place went to the Freedom Party (orange on the map). The vote was very fragmented though, with the Freedom Party getting 17% of the vote. Astoundingly, Labour ended up back in fifth, with a mere 12% — an even worse result than in last year’s local elections. Keep in mind: in 1977 the Labour Party still received 55% of the city’s vote.

Things are only marginally better for the party in Amsterdam. While at least securing second place (behind D66), the Labour Party still only received 15% of the vote. Last year’s municipal elections already marked the first time since World War II that Labour did not emerge as the largest party in the city, getting just 18% of the vote. The social-democrats used to get some 40% of the vote here.

Its not just the Labour Party which is on the defense in the country’s capital; it’s the left as a whole. In the national elections of 2006, parties to the left of D66 pulled a whopping 65% of the vote — an almost Berlin-like score. This time the counter stopped just below the 50% mark. That still made for the second-highest number in the Netherlands (behind Nijmegen), and the left fared a lot worse in the other main cities: 42% in Utrecht, 37% in Rotterdam and 33% in The Hague.

figure11

figure12

Results by province, in detail

 

Compared with the provincial elections four years ago, the Labour Party lost ground in every single municipality of the country, the Volkskrant reported. Its collapse was the most comprehensive in the party’s traditional heartland in the Northeast. Of the ten municipalities where its losses where heaviest, nine were in the eastern half of the province of Groningen. In Pekela, Menterwolde and Veendam, the party’s losses from the previous provincial elections exceeded 19%, in the former two reducing the party’s vote to a third or less of its size. In Menterwolde Labour still got 49% of the vote in the national elections of 1998. Now, it received 8.5%, well behind the Socialists (22%), and also behind a provincial interest party and the Freedom Party (which got 12%). In the province of Groningen as a whole, it was the first time since WWII that Labour failed to emerge as largest party in provincial elections.

All of this was a repeat of last year’s patterns, when six of the seven municipalities where the party lost most were in the province of Groningen. This time, however, there was a specific additional cause for its disproportional losses there, one which highly benefited the regional interest parties which ended up pooling over 12% of the vote in the province: earthquakes. Yes, in the Netherlands. Man-induced — or should that be greed-induced? — earthquakes: it’s a long story, and it involves billions of gas revenues flowing to the national Treasury and the locals being stuck with collapsing buildings. Check out this neat visualization too.

The only municipality where a party got over 50% of the vote was Tubbergen, where the christian-democratic CDA received 56% of the vote. That’s still a far cry from 2003, though, when it was 80% — the Freedom Party and the VVD made some inroads in this rural and very catholic constituency. On the other end of the scale, the CDA had to make do with just 3.3% of the vote in Amsterdam, ranking eighth — with barely over half the votes received by the Party for the Animals. The Christian-Democrats didn’t rank first in any of the country’s twenty largest cities: Emmen (pop. 109 thousand) was the most populous town where it lead.

figure13

Regional strengths and weaknesses of each party: VVD, D66, CDA

 

figure14

Same as above, but with a common scale, to make comparison between strengths of different parties easier

Curiously, that means that both of the top two parties performed relatively weakly in the country’s cities. When it comes to taking first places, at least, the VVD ‘scored’ only a few among the country’s top 20 cities, and nothing bigger than Breda (pop. 175 thousand) and Apeldoorn (pop. 156 thousand). (All such first places are purely symbolic, of course, since the Dutch electoral system does not have districts; legislators are elected through province- or nation-wide party lists.) The VVD more than compensated for this, though, by coloring most of the provinces of North-Holland, South-Holland and Utrecht blue.

I imagine its success in those provinces (especially North Holland, where Labour used to be strong in rural areas as well, and South-Holland, where the christian-democrats used to dominate the countryside) has a lot to do with sub- and exurbanization. Prototypical VVD ‘wins’ included Haarlemmermeer and Zoetermeer, once-rural municipalities that were turned into commuter towns since the 1970s/1980s.

Further rural communities in the West seem to have seen a fair amount of well-off urbanites move in, converting farmhouses and the like. Perhaps that helps explains how a place like Beemster took a surprise second place in the list of top VVD results, ahead of famously wealthy towns like Wassenaar, Blaricum and Rozendaal that have long been VVD bulwarks. This map of median disposable incomes by municipality in 2012 is helpful in that regard, showing that most of the countryside in between and around the four main cities now counts among the country’s most prosperous municipalities.

Below, I will mention how two villages in North Holland (Warder and Middelie) used to yield an 80%+ vote for the left, right after World War Two; now they belong to the municipality of Zeevang, right next to Beemster, and the VVD received 29% of the vote there. The two villages still exist, but in the national elections two years ago even gave 37% and 46% of their vote to the VVD. This bit of history, translated from the Dutch Wikipedia page, can’t be unrelated: “The increase in scale in agriculture resulted in many farms closing their business. Consequently only ten of the 80 full-time farming businesses that existed in 1945 still exist. The farmhouses that remained empty turned out to be popular objects for people from cities like Amsterdam and Haarlem to renovate into comfortable houses and a migration flow started from the cities to countryside villages like Warder”.

D66 on the other hand, as mentioned above, is by far the strongest in large and mid-sized cities. Outside such cities and away from the West, its popularity flags, and the only four municipalities where it took first place outside the Randstad were clustered around the university towns Nijmegen and Wageningen and the nearby town of Arnhem. In several cities away from the Randstad where D66 had still come out on top last year, it now had to relinquish this honor to the Socialists. All in all, the party received 17% of the vote in the centrally located province of Utrecht, but just 7% up in Frysia and down in Zeeland. The regions where it’s strongest happen to also be those where the population is youngest, growing at the fastest rate, and most highly educated.

figure15

Note that the pooled results of these two parties require a different scale of their own: such is the contrast between its bulwarks and the rest of the country. Most everything to the south/east of the Bible Belt is ancestrally catholic; many of the non-urban parts to the north/west of the Bible Belt is traditionally protestant but of the more mainstream or liberal (vrijzinnig) varieties.

 

If you were wondering what that range of grey municipalities in the map at the top of this section is, stretching from the southwest through to the shores of the IJsselmeer, that’s the Dutch Bible Belt.

In every election, some of the most geographically concentrated results come from the small calvinist State Reformed Party (SGP) and the other socially conservative protestant party, the Christian Union. The SGP, notably, only allowed women to become party members in 2006, and only made it possible for women to run for office on its lists last year — and both times, only in the face of judicial pressure from Dutch courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

Nationally, these two parties may have pooled 7.5% of the vote, but in some municipalities, they rule the roost. In the fishing village of Urk the two of them pooled 72% of the vote; in rural Staphorst 59%. There’s more info about these parties in my post about last year’s local elections.

A eagle-eyed observer may have already noticed in the map at the top of this section that something odd happened in a municipality down in the very south of the country, in the province of Limburg: the honor of ranking first was shared by the Socialist Party (SP) and the Freedom Party (PVV). That’s Maastricht (pop. 120 thousand). Of the some 91 thousand eligible voters there, less than 39 thousand showed up, and the SP and VVD both received exactly 6,284 of them. That turnout rate of 42.5% was low — as was turnout in the whole province of Limburg, at 45% — but it was far from the lowest. Rotterdam won that prize, with a turnout of 35.1%. It’s not altogether coincidental that two cities with low turnout also saw the Freedom Party do so well — alienation from the political system is reflected both ways.

Other Freedom Party ‘scalps’ among the 50 largest towns in the Netherlands were Almere, Zaanstad, Dordrecht, Nissewaard (i.e. Spijkenisse), Purmerend, Lelystad, Schiedam and Vlaardingen. In Nissewaard it received 24% of the vote; in all the others it received more votes than any other party, but less than 24%. All of these municipalities are located in the greater Amsterdam or Rotterdam areas, and most have at some point been the destination of ‘white flight’ from those cities. Some have become fairly multicultural themselves, in turn — according to StatLine, the electronic databank of Statistics Netherlands, the percentage non-Western population is 15–19% for most of these towns, but 27–29% in Almere and Schiedam. (In Amsterdam and Rotterdam themselves it’s 35–37%.)

figure16

Regional strengths and weaknesses of each party: PVV, SP, PvdA

 

figure17

Same as above, but with a common scale, to make comparison between strengths of different parties easier

The list of municipalities where the party received the highest percentage of the vote, however, looks quite different. The Freedom Party received 24–25% in three former mining communities in the southeast (Kerkrade, Landgraaf, Onderbanken) as well as Stein, also in Limburg. It got 26% of the vote in Edam-Volendam; its strength there lies in the fishing town of Volendam, where it received 32% of the vote, rather than in Edam (12%). Finally, it received 33% in the municipality of Rucphen, which has a long history of supporting right-wing populist forces whenever they appear. More precisely, it’s Sint Willibrord, traditionally a bricklayers and carpenters village, which does so, and these elections were no exception: in each of the three precincts there, the Freedom Party netted over 50% of the votes!

Onderbanken, Volendam, Sint Willibrord: these places are certainly not cauldrons of multiculturalism. While Kerkrade and Landgraaf include quite a few German residents, CBS statline pegs the percentage of non-Western population in all these municipalities at just 2–5%. Common denominators might instead be, to some extent, rather insular communities and a tradition of exclusion/resentment. But in addition to a couple of larger placed like Heerlen, Venlo and Sittard-Geleen, the top 20 Freedom Party results include plenty of further small-town municipalities which don’t quite have the unique profile of Volendam or Sint Willibrord: Brunssum, Steenbergen, Simpelveld, Roerdalen, Woensdrecht, Vaals, Beek … Many of those are in Limburg, and that province has consistently shown a strong ‘native son’ enthusiasm for Geert Wilders, who was born in Venlo. But not all of them are, and that doesn’t explain why, for example, the Freedom Party received some 30% of the vote in the village of Spijk, part of the municipality of Rijnwaarden.

There are barely any immigrants in Spijk, but “dissatisfaction with the traditional parties, a lack of [political] attention, the disappearance of social services, problems with pensions [were] all reasons why residents of Spijk voted for the Freedom Party,” a local newspaper explained when the party did equally well there four years ago. After citing prof. Pieter Winsemius about how the residents of many Dutch villages feel abandoned, it quoted a local to prove the point: “The young people are leaving because no new houses have been built for years,” all the shops have closed, the local football club has been disbanded, public transport doesn’t get to Spijk and there are too few streetlights along the bicycling path. Another voter added that “we have nothing against foreigners, but they have to behave. Just look at ‘Opsporing Verzocht’ [a popular TV show about crime], it’s all colored people.” You don’t need to actually know any immigrants to have an opinion about them.

The Socialist Party, in addition to its shared first place in Maastricht, came first in Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede, Heerlen, Oss, Helmond, and Hengelo, as well as a range of smaller places. All of these except for Oss and Helmond have long been among the relatively major cities of the country — but not a single one of them is in the Randstad. They’re all out in the provinces, whether north, east or south.

Election posters for the 2015 provincial elections. Photo by harry_nl, licensed under Creative Commons

Election posters for the 2015 provincial elections. Photo by harry_nl, licensed under Creative Commons

Some of these cities boast or used to boast a major industry, like Philips in Eindhoven, or the textile industry of Hengelo and Enschede until it collapsed in the 1970s. Most of them have a strongly industrial tradition, actually: except for Maastricht, every one of them belonged to the 40 (out of over 1,000 then-existing) Dutch municipalities of 1930 where over 70% of the employed population was an industrial worker. All except for Groningen and Helmond belonged to the 28 Dutch towns which, in the same year, boasted at least one factory that employed over 1,000 workers.

That’s very much past tense, though: Maastricht, Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede and Heerlen now actually belong to the bottom-fifth of Dutch municipalities regarding the percentage of blue-collar workers. Industrial employment and work in the trade and transport sector are mostly concentrated in small towns and rural areas nowadays. Instead, half of these cities (Maastricht, Groningen, Enschede, Heerlen) rank in the top fifth of municipalities when it comes to the share of government & health care employees; but Eindhoven, Helmond and Oss have a below-average share of those.

The full list of municipalities with the highest share of SP votes makes for an intriguing mix. The party received 32% of the vote in Boxmeer, the provincial hometown of party leader Emile Roemer, and 25–26.5% of the vote in neighbouring Cuijk and Gennep — each of which has fewer than 30 thousand inhabitants. But the Socialists also got a quarter of the vote in the above-mentioned Oss, its historic bulwark (pop. 80,000), and Heerlen (pop. 88,000), the city at the heart of Limburg’s former mining country; and two small municipalities (pop. <15,000) in eastern Groningen, up in the traditionally leftist northeastern corner of the country, Pekela and Bellingwedde. (Some of these places, like Oss, Cuijk and to a lesser extent Boxmeer, do still have a strongly blue-collar labour market.)

The Socialist Party’s roots in eastern Brabant go beyond Roemer’s personal background. Like I wrote last year, the SP was getting over 20% of the vote in Oss even when it was still a Maoist splinter with a national vote of just 0.3%. Its brand of local and neighborhood activism apparently fit well with the clientalist tradition of local Catholic politicking. Maybe it made it easier for voters to shake off the stern threats against voting for the “reds” by yesteryear’s priests, which had traditionally kept the Labour Party weak in the south. Comparing the 2012 elections map for the SP with that of catholicism in the Netherlands suggests a definite correlation.

But just like in last year’s local elections, the SP’s electoral map for the provincial elections shows it is more broadly developing an electorate in the peripheries, away from the bustling cities in the West with their multicultural populations and white-collar economies, expanding from its traditional base into more provincial cities and the economically ailing northeast.

figure18

Regional strengths and weaknesses of each political current

 

figure19

Same as above, but with a common scale to make comparisons easier

How do these sometimes conflicting geographic patterns translate into the relative dominance of one or the other ideological current? The maps above investigate that question, and unsurprisingly find the christian parties dominant primarily in the (deeply protestant) Bible Belt, but also in the (deeply catholic) northeastern part of Overijssel. The liberal parties do best in the Randstad, though more so in its northern ‘wing’ (Amsterdam/Utrecht) than the southern ‘wing’ (Rotterdam/The Hague), as well as the leafier parts of the countryside in North-Brabant, Gelderland and Drenthe. The ‘red’ (socialist/social-democratic) parties still perform well in Amsterdam, but otherwise rely on provincial strengths in north, east and south. Broadening the scope of left-of-center politics somewhat and including the Green Left and the Party for the Animals changes that image somewhat and gives more prominence to major cities and especially university towns (e.g. Amsterdam, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Leiden, Wageningen).

It’s interesting especially to compare the current map of the left with what it looked in previous decades. Compare these maps of the sum results for left-wing parties in national elections 69 years ago, right after the war, and 33 years ago, in the early 1980s, with the one for these provincial elections:

Historic election data from verkiezingsuitslagen.nl. Maps with historic municipal boundaries via Data Archiving and Networked Services — DANS: Dr. O.W.A. Boonstra (2007), NLGis shapefiles, http://persistent-identifier.nl/urn:nbn:nl:ui:13-wsh-wv7

Historic election data from verkiezingsuitslagen.nl. Maps with historic municipal boundaries via Data Archiving and Networked Services — DANS: Dr. O.W.A. Boonstra (2007), NLGis shapefiles, http://persistent-identifier.nl/urn:nbn:nl:ui:13-wsh-wv7

 

There is a distinct shift in geographic focus over time. For some fourty years, up until the late fourties, left-wing parties would pool over 45% of the vote in the province of North-Holland; in 1946 it was the country’s most left-wing province. Its support there was not limited to the cities either; it extended into most small towns and villages, thanks in part perhaps to the prevalence of liberal protestant denominations. But the left’s relative strength in the province declined steadily until, in the late 1990s, it did barely better there than in the country overall. The province of South-Holland became ever more friendly territory, relative to the national average, from the 1920s through to the mid-1960s, but has been trending away from the left ever since, with no end in sight. In Groningen, however, the left had kept consistently overperforming by roughly the same large margin throughout the post-war era — which makes Labour’s massive losses there this year and last year, only partially offset by SP gains, stand out all the more.

On the flipside, in those parts of the country where the left did very weakly, or was barely present at all, in 1946 it has done much better from the 1970s onward.

The result of these countervailing trends is what stands out most of all in these maps, aside from the left’s general weakness in last month’s elections: the overall blurring of geographical patterns. The huge contrasts which existed between highs and lows in the results of 1946 became ever less pronounced.

Back in 1946, there were 73 municipalities where the Labour Party and the Communists pooled over 60% of the vote — and 151 of them where the vote for the two parties added up to less than a piddling 5% of the vote. There were even six (mostly tiny) municipalities where the cumulative result for the social-democrats and communists was over 80% of the vote, and not one of them was in Groningen: Middelie, Oudendijk, Jisp, Ammerstol, Warder, Idaarderadeel. Vice versa, there were four where they received less than half a percentage point (five votes at most): Beers; Vessem, Wintelre en Knegsel; Westerhoven and Zeeland. All of which were hamlets in the catholic south. Boxmeer, where the Socialist Party got its best result in the country last month, was just another staunchly catholic village back then, where the Catholic People’s Party (KVP) got 94% of the vote.

Because that’s how it was: the religious political camps had even more pronounced strongholds and no-go areas. This was especially the case with the KVP, which received over 90% of the vote in no fewer than 169 municipalities, but at the same time got less than 5% in a massive 339 municipalities. Similarly, the three protestant parties of the time (ARP, CHU and SGP) also managed to pool over 70% of the vote in 89 municipalities, while getting less than 5% in 285 of them.

Sometimes, sharp contrasts could be found even between neighboring municipalities. Finsterwolde may have given 56% of its vote to the communists (and another 24% to the Labour Party), the citizens of the neighboring villages of Midwolda and Oostwold didn’t feel the same way; in their municipality, the Communist Party got just 8%, while over 50% of the vote went to the protestant parties. In Middelie, North-Holland, the Labour Party may have gotten 86% of the vote (with the communists coming in second), but in neighbouring Edam-Volendam it was the KVP which got 66%, with Labour languishing at 17%. Contrasts between neighboring villages of different religions were even starker: in Voorhout, South-Holland, 84% voted for the KVP, but in Rijnsburg 88% voted for the protestant parties ARP (52%) or CHU (36%).

figure21

By 1982, the number of such extreme results was drastically reduced. The left, which by then consisted of a large Labour Party and five small parties to its left, got over 80% of the vote in just two municipalities: the communist bulwarks of Finsterwolde and Beerta, up in the country’s northeastern corner. At the same time, there was also just one municipality left where it polled less than 5% of the vote: Urk. Same with the christian parties: KVP, ARP and CHU had by then merged into the CDA, but there were only two municipalities where that new force received over 70% of the vote: Weerselo and Tubbergen.

This year, as mentioned, there was only one municipality where a party received even just over 50% of the vote by itself (Tubbergen, CDA). And there wasn’t a single municipality where the left, even when added up together, polled over 51% of the vote.

Some part of this flattening out of results is due to successive rounds of local government reorganizations, which created ever larger municipalities and served to blend out local political peculiarities (and I’ll get into an example of that below). The main chunk of it, however, is the result of secularization. The religious parties used to hold their respective community ‘pillars’ in a tight grip: if you were catholic, for example, you read the catholic newspaper, listened to the catholic radio station, went to the catholic sports club, married a fellow catholic, and certainly voted for the catholic party (which explains how pale the south is in the left-most map). The so-called ‘depillarization’ of the 1960s-70s lifted many of those barriers, allowing the left to expand into the south; but at the same time depillarization also rapidly eroded what had been the socialists’ own ‘pillar’, which had equally bound its community together with a ‘red’ TV and radio station and social-democratic trade unions, newspapers, sports clubs, hiking clubs and health insurance cooperatives.

A third cause of the evening out of geographic political contrasts, itself contributing to the depillarization as well, must have been a mix of domestic migration/mobility and an increase of scale in daily lives. As villages turned into suburbs, young people moved to the cities, retirees moved to the countryside, white working class residents moved out of the inner cities and immigrants moved into them, workers started commuting longer distances, and people became ever more reliant on mass media instead of local networks for their information (and arguably socialization), differences have blended out ever more. A global phenomenon, of course. But perhaps especially strong in a small, highly urbanized and largely trade and services-reliant country like the Netherlands?

Far left, far right: revisiting Oldambt

Finally, this is where I get to write about one of the most interesting details of Dutch political geography, namely that spot right in the very northeast of the country where the only municipalities used to be where communists were ever dominant in the Netherlands. And where they still held on, quixotically, like Asterix and Obelix in a remote corner of the Roman empire, even after 1989.

The endless skies of the north: grain fields near Beerta. Photo by XPeria2Day, licensed under Creative Commons

The endless skies of the north: grain fields near Beerta. Photo by XPeria2Day, licensed under Creative Commons

That year didn’t just mark the collapse of the Soviet empire, it was also the last year two small, stubbornly communist municipalities called Finsterwolde and Beerta existed as independent entities. The residents of the two villages had been voting communist ever since 1922, and had kept doing so locally even after they’d taken to voting Labour in national elections in the late 1970s. Beerta was the only Dutch municipality to ever have had a communist mayor. Vice versa, both Beerta (in 1934–35) and Finsterwolde (in 1951–53) once had their local government and municipal council disbanded by the Dutch state and replaced by a ‘government commissioner’. Communist strength here was rooted in conditions of extreme local inequality: the local ‘gentleman farmers’, as they were called, used to earn 40–50 times as much as the farm labourers who tilled their land.

In 1990, however, Finsterwolde and Beerta were to merge with Nieuweschans into a larger, new municipality called Reiderland (pop. 7,000 or so). That was expected to deal a blow to the communists’ dominance, especially given world events — not to mention the self-dissolution of the Dutch Communist Party, which merged into the Green Left. But it didn’t. The local diehards just created a New Communist Party (NCPN) and promptly won 50% of the vote in the new municipality’s elections in 1994.

That support rapidly melted away in subsequent years after all, however, to 36% in 1998 and 18% in 2006. So when Reiderland in its turn fell victim to municipal restructuring and was merged into a newly created entity called Oldambt (pop. 39,000), that was sure to sound the death knell for the communists once and for all. The new municipality was to be dominated by the town of Winschoten; and while the residents there were a pretty left-wing bunch too, it had little of the deep communist history of Finsterwolde or Beerta. In fact, the NCPN had tried to relaunch in Winschoten as well in 1994, and gotten just 4% of the vote.

And yet, once again, no death knell. In last year’s local elections, a grandly titled United Communist Party (which ran in only one other municipality in the country) doubled its number of seats and increased its vote share to an altogether decent 16.0%. They came in second only to the Socialist Party, which gives you an idea of how stubbornly leftist this area is. In the Finsterwolde and Beerta precincts, specifically, they got 33% of the vote.

This year, the United Communists were so bold as to run in the provincial elections, so did their luck keep up? Interestingly enough, it didn’t. Not just did the party fail to make any impression province-wide, getting just 0.5% of the vote, it did horribly even in Oldambt, with just 4.1% of the vote. Even at the precincts in Finsterwolde and Beerta it remained stuck under 10% and 8%, respectively. How come? Did the Socialists sweep the municipality?

United Communist Party posters at the former cultural center of Winschoten. Photo by ripperda, licensed under Creative Commons.

United Communist Party posters at the former cultural center of Winschoten. Photo by ripperda, licensed under Creative Commons.

This is where things take a curious turn. In my post last year about the local elections, I already recounted how the New Communist Party (NCPN) dropped the ball somewhat in the 2002 parliamentary elections — the year that Pim Fortuyn swept through the Dutch political landscape, and his anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-Islam party went from zero to 17% of the vote practically overnight, in an election that took place just days after his assassination. In general, the northern provinces weren’t anywhere near as taken with his brand of politics as the rest of the country— in none of the four northernmost provinces did the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) get over 12% of the vote. But there was an exception. That year, the NCPN had decided not to take part in the national elections, since it never made any mark in it anyway. Coincidentally or not, Reiderland promptly provided the best result for the LPF in the entire north.

As this chart suggests, there’s at least a good possibility that a majority of the communists’ local voters, with all their suspicion and resentment of economic and political elites and ‘the lords in the Hague’, had in fact bolted straight to the far right. The only other party that lost big that year was the Labour Party, and the only party that gained big was the LPF. I also imagine that the communists of Finsterwolde are not likely to disagree much with the Freedom Party voter from Spijk who responded to a local press story by saying that “there is one important reason to vote for the Freedom Party, and it’s got nothing to do with foreigners or Islam; namely to taunt the self-satisfied ‘elite’ so us ‘dumb citizens’ can look them in the arse!”

It seems like something similar might have happened this time, though it’s not entirely clear. The Freedom Party did not take part in the local elections last year, but it did take part now, and it received 11.6% of the vote in Oldambt. That was almost identical to its national score, but well above its score in the province of Groningen as a whole (8.0%). It was roughly in line, however, with what the party got in other municipalities in the eastern part of the province, which has been good to the Freedom Party in past elections as well. In fact, its best scores in the north came not in Oldambt but in neighbouring Pekela (18%), nearby Vlagtwedde (15%) and Emmen (15%), across the provincial border in Drenthe. And while the ‘united’ communists had recently expanded into Pekela, it wasn’t like there was a major chunk of communist voters in any of those places.

On the other hand, check out this side-by-side comparison of votes cast in the local elections in Oldambt last year and the provincial elections now. And then, specifically, the one for the Beerta and Finsterwolde precincts. In part, it seems to suggest that communist voters were more likely than most to stay home this time. But still. The fact that there’s only one major winner of votes and one major loser doesn’t prove that there was a direct transfer of votes from the United Communist Party to the Freedom Party, of course. But as they say, “Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”

figure22 figure23

Brazil 2014

Presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state elections were held in Brazil on October 6, 2014, with a presidential and gubernatorial runoffs on October 26, 2014.

No, this blog isn’t dead! This superbly detailed but ridiculously long post took up most of my busy time, preventing me from posting about other elections as I had wished. I hope to cover a few of the elections I have missed. I still welcome guest posts, on any topic and recent election. Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas to all readers, and warm wishes for a happy election-filled New Year 2015.

Political and electoral system

The President of Brazil, the head of state and government of Brazil, is elected directly to a four-year term, renewable once (but with the possibility to run again after leaving office). The President is elected using a two-round system, in which a second round is held three weeks later if no candidate has won an absolute majority in the first round. Presidential candidates select a running-mate, who serves as Vice President in the event of their ticket’s election.

The National Congress of Brazil (Congresso Nacional do Brasil) is a bicameral legislature composed of the 81-member Federal Senate (Senado Federal), which represents the states and the 513-member Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados), which represents the people. In the regular legislative process, both houses have equal powers – meaning that both of them must approve a bill for it to pass, and both houses must vote to override a President’s veto on a bill. Both houses have some reserved powers – for example, the Senate must confirm some presidential appointments and holds impeachment proceedings (which are initiated by the Chamber).

The Senate is composed of 81 senators representing Brazil’s 27 constituent units – 26 states and the Federal District (DF) – with 3 senators for each constituent unit, elected to eight-year terms with no term limits. Senators are elected every four years – two-thirds of the Senate is up for election at one time when each state elects two of its senators, and one-third is up four years later when each state elects one senator. Senators are elected by first past the post.

The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members, supposed to be apportioned between the states on the basis of population, but the Constitution establishes that no state may have more than 70 deputies or less than 8 deputies. This means that there is major misrepresentation in the Chamber, with deputies in the state of São Paulo representing over 570,000 people each while the eight deputies from the smallest state, Roraima, each represent only 53,000 people. Deputies are elected in each state by open-list proportional representation. Voters may vote for a party or a candidate on a party list, with the votes cast for the party directly and all its candidates being added with the seats distributed proportionally. Most Brazilians vote for individual candidates, rather than the party list. The candidates elected are those who have won the largest number of votes for a party. The effect of this electoral system is that political parties seek to maximize their votes, and thus seat count, by running celebrity or star candidates who are able to win a large number of votes. For example, a small party which has a very popular candidate who wins a large number of votes him/herself can drag other party candidates in with him, even if they won very few votes. In 2002, for instance, a small party run by a charismatic and popular leader had their leading poll over 1.5 million votes and therefore elected six seats – including four candidates who had won less than 1,000 votes!

Brazil is a federal state divided into 26 states and one Federal District. The states have power over matters not explicitly forbidden to them in the Constitution. Each state and the DF has a directly-elected Governor, who serves a four-year term renewable once. The Governor, elected on a ticket with a Vice Governor, is elected using a two-round system. The legislative power of each state is vested in a Legislative Assembly (Assembleia Legislativa), with the number of deputies in each state set according to a formula in the Constitution (Article 27). The largest state, São Paulo, elects 94 state deputies; the smallest states have 24 state deputies. Deputies in Legislative Assemblies are known as deputados estaduais (state deputies) or, in the DF, deputados distritais (district deputies) to differentiate them from members of the Chamber of Deputies, who are deputados federais (federal deputies). The DF’s government is organized like a state government, with an elected Governor and state legislature, but the DF has no state constitution and it has the powers of a state and a municipality.

Brazil has a strong and independent judiciary. The Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF) is the court of last resort with responsibility over constitutional law. It has 11 judges (called ‘ministers’) appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The 33-member Superior Court of Justice (Superior Tribunal de Justiça, STJ) is the highest appellate court for all non-constitutional questions of federal law. Courts have decided on a number of important issues in recent years, including same-sex marriage, but also on electoral matters including the Ficha Limpa law (Clean Slate Law), which renders ineligible for 8 years any candidate whose mandate was revoked, resigned office to escape impeachment or who was convicted by a collective body (the STF ruled in 2011 that the law could not apply to the 2010 elections and ruled it constitutional for future elections in 2012).

Registration and voting is compulsory for all citizens between 18 and 70, excepting the illiterate; registration and voting is voluntary for voters aged 16 to 18 and those over 70. Compulsory voting is enforced, with voters who did not vote being forced to provide adequate justification for not voting within 60 days after the election, or else they are fined. Candidates for any elected office must be registered with a political party (they may not run as an independent), and all candidates for office receive free airtime on radio and TV. While candidates in second rounds have equal airtime, the duration of each candidate’s airtime in the first round is determined by the size and weight of the parties in a candidate’s coalition – meaning that there exists a real incentive for candidates to be supported by a large number of parties, even small ones, in order to increase their airtime.

In order to run for another office, the President, cabinet ministers, governors and mayors must resign from their respective offices at least six months before the election. An incumbent seeking reelection to the same office, however, does not resign, which has sometimes raised questions about incumbents using the advantages of their office and state resources to campaign for reelection.

Although Brazilian political parties play an important role in the political process, many parties in Brazil have little formal ideologies or coherent principles, and function as patronage machines seeking power with little interest in the general ideological direction of the government. Because of legal regulations on free airtime or the number of candidates allowed to run, larger parties have an interest in contracting electoral coalitions with smaller parties – oftentimes the smaller parties are the most venal and corrupt parties – for strategic electoral purposes. Many of these small parties which form coalitions with one another are known as ‘rental parties’ or ‘parties for hire’ (partido de aluguel) meaning that they will sell themselves to the highest bidder when election season rolls around. In return, these ‘parties for hire’ can win seats in Congress and, as it gets a substantial number of seats, its bidding power on the government increases and it gains access to the spoils of power (lucrative posts in public institutions and agencies, government contracts, public works in their state). The harsh and unpleasant reality of Brazilian party politics means that it is very difficult for a politician to be elected to high office without making strategic alliances with these powerful patronage parties.

There are, of course, parties with more coherent ideologies and politicians with principles – although these parties and politicians are forced to deal with the venal parties if they want to get anywhere.

Historical background

In the 2010 elections, Dilma Rousseff was elected President of Brazil as the anointed successor of popular two-term outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), first elected to office in 2002.

Lula was a left-wing trade unionist, who grew up poor in Brazil’s impoverished Nordeste (Northeast) before moving, like many Northeasterners, to São Paulo – Brazil’s economic powerhouse – to work in the factories in São Paulo’s industrial suburbs. He rose through the ranks of the steel workers’ trade unions in São Bernardo do Campo due to his leadership skills and charisma, and gained national prominence due to his leadership in large strikes in favour of workers’ rights during the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985). In 1980, Lula led the foundation of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), a socialist party founded by independent left-wing trade unionists, left-wing intellectuals and Catholics influenced by Liberation Theology and, in 1983, he participated in the foundation of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), a trade union confederation which broke with the corporatist system of labour relations instituted by President Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945, 1951-1954) and practiced by the old varguista Brazilian Labour Party (PTB). The PT became one of the smaller parties which opposed the military regime in its waning years and supported democratization, notably the large-scale Diretas Já campaign for direct presidential elections in 1984. Between 1989 and 2002, Lula lost three successive presidential elections.

After having been ruled by the military since a 1964 coup, Brazil’s transition to democracy was negotiated and controlled by the military regime, beginning with General Ernesto Geisel (President, 1974-1979) policy of distensão, or political opening. Geisel’s successor, General João Figueiredo (1979-1985), decreed a general amnesty in 1979, passed a political reform which ended the rigid two-party system imposed by the military’s Ato Institucional Dos in 1965 (allowing for the registration of parties such as the PT) and allowed for the direct election of state governors in 1982 (the first direct elections of governors since the 1960s, after the regime abolished direct elections of governors in 1966 through AI-3). However, Figueiredo struggled to retain control of the transition process, facing strong pressure from a united and energized opposition movement (led by the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro, or PMDB, the successor to the MDB, the sole tolerated legal opposition party to the regime) and reactionary opposition from military intelligence hardliners (linha dura). The Democratic Social Party (PDS), the pro-military party, split over the choice of a presidential successor ahead of the 1984 elections (which would still be indirect, through an electoral college dominated by the PDS, after the failure of the Diretas Já‘s campaign to amend the constitution for immediate direct elections). The PDS nominated Paulo Maluf, the infamously corrupt former ‘bionic’ mayor and governor of São Paulo; a choice which was immediately rejected by Maluf’s opponents including Vice President Aureliano Chaves, former Pernambuco governor Marco Maciel, the very powerful Bahian political boss Antônio Carlos Magalhães (ACM) and Maranhão senator José Sarney. Chaves, ACM and Marco Maciel participated in the foundation of the Liberal Front Party (Partido da Frente Liberal, PFL) and endorsed the opposition candidacy of Tancredo Neves, a veteran moderate opposition politician (who had served under the presidency of Getúlio Vargas and as Prime Minister under João Goulart prior to the 1964 coup) who was spearheading the movement for democratization in Brazil. José Sarney joined the PMDB and was Tancredo Neves’ running-mate, thus forming a broad coalition allying long-time opponents of the regime with defectors from the pro-regime party. Tancredo Neves was elected President by the electoral college, but he was rushed to the hospital on the eve of his inauguration and he died after seven surgical operations a bit over a month later. To allow for a smooth transition, it was agreed that Sarney would be allowed to become President, despite Tancredo never having been inaugurated formally.

Sarney’s government faced, besides the management of the transition and the adoption of the Constitution, hyperinflation. Sarney’s first response, the Cruzado Plan – which included a price and wage freeze, a new currency and a ‘wage trigger’ to automatically adjust wages when inflation reached 20% – was initially very popular, leading to an explosion of consumption and a massive victory for the PMDB in the 1986 elections, but ultimately failed because the price freeze distorted the profit margins of companies, leading to disinvestment and declining production and resulting in a serious supply crisis. The government ran through two other plans to tackle hyperinflation, but both failed. When Sarney left office, he was highly unpopular, seen as corrupt and unable to handle the economy. Nevertheless, Sarney did oversee the adoption of the 1988 Constitution and the restoration of democracy – with universal suffrage, civil and political liberties.

In 1989, the first direct presidential election since the 1964 military coup, Lula placed second in the first round with 16.1% and went on to face Fernando Collor de Mello, a young and suave populist-conservative governor of Alagoas (a small state in the Nordeste) who ran a very anti-Sarney campaign. In a dirty runoff campaign in which Collor was openly favoured by the powerful Globo media empire, Lula’s image as an angry radical worried conservative voters throughout the country and he was ultimately defeated by Collor, 49.4% to 44.2%. Collor took office as Brazil was facing hyperinflation. Collor quickly adopted drastic measures to fight inflation by aiming to sharply cut the amount of money in circulation. His Plano Collor included the introduction of (yet another) new currency, an 18-month freeze in all overnight deposits over US$1,300, a tax on financial transactions (stock shares, gold and financial titles), a price and wage freeze, an increase in utility prices, the dismissal of 360,000 public employees, exchange rate liberalization, elimination of tax incentives, abolition of several government institutes and Collor’s government promised wide-reaching neoliberal reforms to the economy including privatization and deregulation. Inflation did fall from 2947% in 1990 to 477% in 1991, but the Plano Collor’s initial success proved fleeting and inflation shot up again – to 1022% in 1992. In 1991 and 1992, Collor’s government was hit by an avalanche of revelations which showed that PC Farias, Collor’s sketchy campaign treasurer, was running a huge corruption scheme and embezzling millions in public monies by manipulating public contracts. In late September 1992, the Chamber achieved more than the two-thirds majority required to suspend Collor from office and Collor resigned at the end of the year hours before the Senate voted on his removal from office – which it ended up doing anyway.

His Vice President, Itamar Franco – a rather odd and erratic personality – needed to deal with the crisis of hyperinflation. Facing a real social and economic crisis, with inflation roaring at over 2075% in 1994, Itamar turned, in May 1993, to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a prominent academic and sociologist exiled during most of the military regime. FHC took a gamble and presented an ambitious plan with the potential for high rewards but huge risks: the Plano Real. His plan cut public spending (by forcing Congress to kill its pork-barreling habits), increased tax collection, cracked down on tax evasion, required heavily indebted states to pay off their debts to the federal government and introduced the Unidade Real de Valor, a non-monetary reference currency (mandatory conversion of values) designed to break the psychological inertia of Brazilian inflation and ease the transition to the introduction of the Brazilian real on July 1, 1994. The Plano Real was a real success – inflation dropped from 46.6% to 6.1% between June and July 1994 (the introduction of the real), and inflation in 1995 fell to 66% and 16% in 1996. FHC, backed by powerful conservative bosses, announced his presidential candidacy in March 1994 and, after July, rode on the successful introduction of the new currency. In October, FHC was elected by the first round with 54.3% against 27% for Lula, who had been the initial favourite since the fallout from the Collor crisis.

FHC was a member of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSDB), a party which he had helped create in 1988. The PSDB was founded by progressive reformist dissidents of the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) which had, under Sarney’s presidency, taken the form of an ideologically incoherent patronage-based alliance of regional political bosses. The PSDB’s founders included, besides FHC, Mário Covas, Franco Montoro and former student opposition leader José Serra. In 1989, the PSDB supported Lula in the second round over Collor and the party – especially Mário Covas – were opponents of Collor’s government before it was cool. FHC’s 1994 candidacy was made possible through the support of the PFL, particularly ACM, who provided FHC with his Vice President, Marco Maciel.

In office, Cardoso’s government maintained a strict macroeconomic policy aimed at ensuring the long-term success of the Plano Real and Brazil’s economic recovery. His government promoted privatizations of various state-owned companies (notably Telebrás, the state-owned monopoly telecom company); liberalized the energy sector with a 1997 law which broke Petrobras’ monopoly on exploration, production, refining and transportation of oil by allowing concessions of ‘well to wheel’ activities to private Brazilian companies (a model for the recent reform to Mexico’s public energy monopoly) and passed a fiscal responsibility law to impose controls on states and municipalities’ spending. The government’s HIV/AIDS policy, which encouraged production of generic drugs, was very successful and prevented an AIDS pandemic similar to that in South Africa. In 1997, Congress approved a constitutional amendment allowing for the immediate reelection of the President, governors and mayors – an amendment which allowed Cardoso to run for a second term in office in 1998, which he handily won by the first round, once again defeating Lula. There have been allegations that the government bribed congressmen to approve the reelection amendment.

In his second term, FHC faced a far more difficult economic situation. Brazil’s growing but fragile economy was hit by the successive regional and global economic crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and structural problems in the Plano Real – such as deflationary monetary policies and an overvalued semi-fixed exchange rate – worsened the problems. The economic crises in Mexico, Russia and Asia during this period caused sharp drops in prices of commodities exported by Brazil and outflows of capital. In 1999, the Central Bank devalued the real and the government later decided to float the currency. The economic effect of the devaluation was less negative than originally expected, and the economy grew by 4% in 2001. However, the government’s popularity was hurt by power cuts in 2001-2002, the result of a lack of investments in electrical infrastructure in the past 10 years. FHC left office having presided over a welcome period of political and economic stability in Brazil. While his legacy is somewhat controversial, with his opponents on the left considering him a neoliberal (an inaccurate label – FHC is far closer, ideologically, to the centrist Third Way promoted in the late 1990s by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton) while his supporters claim that he laid the bases for Brazil’s good economic performance in the 2000s under Lula.

Lula’s fourth presidential candidacy was his successful one. His 2002 victory, with 61.3% in the runoff against FHC’s health minister José Serra, was the result of a calculated ideological moderation in the PT and the creation of a more appealing personal image for the candidate. Lula contracted the services of Duda Mendonça, a famous advertising guru and political strategist who had managed to elect Paulo Maluf as mayor of São Paulo in 1992; Lula became ‘Lula peace and love’, a consensual and moderate candidate very different from the angry bearded union radical of 1989; Lula’s PT allied with some of the ‘for hire’ small parties – his running-mate was senator José Alencar, an evangelical Christian textile businessman  from the small centre-right Liberal Party (PL) and Lula pledged not to nationalize companies or default on Brazil’s foreign debt (two of his ‘scariest’ promises from 1989). Upon his victory, Lula promptly moved to allay the fears of investors by appointing an orthodox economist, Henrique Meirelles, as President of the Central Bank and another moderate, Antonio Palocci, as his Minister of Finance.

Lula pursued a conservative fiscal and monetary policy during his two terms in office. The Central Bank, which enjoyed wide autonomy, followed a strict inflation targeting policy which aimed – successfully – at keep inflation within a narrow band with a target of 4.5% in place since 2003. When Lula took office, inflation had been quite high – over 12.5% in 2002 and 9.3% in 2003 – but, in every subsequent year until he left office, Brazilian inflation was kept within the Central Bank’s bands (real inflation during Lula’s term fell between 7.6% and 3.1%). The Brazilian economy enjoyed strong growth rates during his term in office, at an average of 4% GDP growth per year between 2003 and 2010 – a higher average growth rate than under his predecessor’s two terms in power. Brazil weathered the 2008-9 global recession far better than most other G20 powers, with a small recession of 0.3% in 2009 but record growth of 7.5% in 2010. Lula’s terms in office also saw a significant decline in the unemployment rate, which fell from 12% when Lula took office in 2003 to 6.7% in 2010; with the Ministry of Labour reporting the creation of over 15 million jobs during his eight years in power, not considering layoffs – although job creation was erratic in the first term. Brazil’s public debt, which had increased significantly under FHC’s second term (79% in 2003), was reduced under Lula’s presidency, falling to 65% of GDP in 2010. The government and the Central Bank stuck to IMF commitments in achieving a ‘primary fiscal surplus’ and stuck to Cardoso’s anti-inflationary fiscal responsibility law. Brazil’s export economy performed well under Lula, thanks to increased exports of natural resources and agriculture (soybeans) and a great diversification of Brazil’s export partners which reduced Brazil’s traditional dependence on US and EU markets. In a change of course from his past anti-globalization rhetoric, the Lula administration worked within the WTO and became an active player in trade disputes – notably against EU and US agricultural and sugar subsidies.

Although the Central Bank’s strict deflationary policy and high interest rates were criticized, Brazilian interest rates declined gradually during Lula’s presidency. The government’s orthodox and conservative economic policies displeased many leftist members of the PT, but were praised by investors. Critics attacked the government for insufficient investments in infrastructure, healthcare and education. To the PT’s base, however, the drop in the price of food and the rise in the minimum wage were real tangible achievements.

By far, the most successful and popular aspect of Lula’s presidency was the significant reduction in poverty and income inequality in one of the world’s most unequal countries. Upon taking office, Lula introduced a strategy to combat malnutrition: Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), whose initiatives ranged from creation of ‘people’s restaurants’, expanding access to microcredit, creation of cisterns in the Nordeste’s sertão, food banks to hold supplies, direct support for family agriculture. The efficiency of Fome Zero was soon brought into question, with claims that it was badly administered and not reaching enough people. In 2004, the program was effectively replaced by what has become the government’s biggest lasting achievement – Bolsa Familía. The program replaced FHC’s Bolsa Escola, a conditional cash transfer for poor families with children attending school. Bolsa Familía is a conditional cash transfer program to poor and very poor families granted on condition that children/dependents are attending school and vaccinated. The program currently serves about 14 million families, who receive an average of R$149.46 per month. Some critics of Bolsa Familía have claimed that the program ignores the quality of education and promotes welfare dependency rather than job creation, while other critics have charged that it is a clientelist program aimed at buying poor voters’ support. However, the program has generally received praise and international interest, including from the World Bank (which has debunked a number of myths about the program’s effects on dependency), and has contributed to the significant reduction in poverty and income inequality in Brazil. In 2003, 43% of Brazilians lived on less than $4 a day. In 2011, that number had fallen to 24%. While Brazil remains one of the world’s most unequal countries, the Gini coefficient has fallen from about 0.59 when Lula took office to 0.53 in 2011. Income inequality and poverty had remained high, with little change, under Brazil’s previous democratic presidents – including under FHC’s two terms.

Lula’s government took steps to confront racial inequalities (a longtime taboo subject in a country founded in good part on the myth of ‘racial democracy’), cracked down on slave labour in remote regions of the Amazon and Nordeste (over 32,000 people were freed from slave labour under Lula’s presidency), supported a rural electrification project, supported family agriculture and PT supporters pointed out that Lula distributed more land to landless peasants than his predecessor did. Brazil’s education system continues to be ranked near the very bottom in PISA rankings, despite real efforts by Lula’s government to improve educational outcomes. His government created ProUni to grant full or partial scholarships to low-income students and created 11 federal universities. On environmental issues, the government’s record was shoddier – Lula constantly tried (and struggled) to straddle both sides of the dispute, being sensitive both to environmentalists’ demands for conservation of the Amazon rainforest, and the importance of agribusiness to the economy. Marina Silva, Lula’s environment minister, faced constant hostility from other sectors of the government as she sought to limit deforestation and environmentally-destructive development, until she resigned from cabinet in 2008.

Lula’s government saw Brazil adopt a much more active foreign policy, breaking with a certain passivity in the past administrations, and Lula put much personal energy and time during his two terms in foreign state visits and hosting foreign leaders. His foreign policy aimed to open more markets for Brazilian exports, deepen ties with other major developing states through BRICS (Russia, India, China and South Africa), promote South American integration, rebuild the Mercosul and boosting Brazil’s weight in international organizations such as the UN (Brazil was a major contributor to the UN mission in Haiti) in the hopes of gaining a permanent seat for Brazil on the UNSC. Lula’s relations with the US, under the George W. Bush administration, were not as friendly as they had been under Cardoso (who had gotten along well with Clinton) – Brazil opposed Bush’s FTAA idea, strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Brasília took some stances at odds with American foreign policy (on issues such as Iran, Israel-Palestine). Lula, as one of the key left-wing leaders elected in Latin America’s ‘Pink Wave’ in the 2000s, was friendly to Hugo Chávez and other left-wing regional leaders. But Brazil’s economic and strategic interests in some of these countries – particularly Bolivia and Paraguay – were at odds with the rhetoric of left-wing leaders in those countries (like Bolivia, where Petrobras had $3.5 billion investments when Evo Morales nationalized oil and gas). Lula’s policy with regards to Iran, Cuba and China was criticized by the opposition.

To win and maintain power in Brazil, politicians require to forge broad coalitions inevitably including slimy politicians and venal parties which represent vested interests and/or demand tangible benefits in exchange for their support. Lula’s 2002 coalition included the PT and Alencar’s PL and other small left-wing parties such as the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro, PSB) – founded in 1985 and later joined by Miguel Arraes, a three-time left-wing governor of Pernambuco (first elected in 1962 in the then-conservative northeastern state, with Communist support, his government forced sugar mill and plantation owners to pay their employees minimum wage and he supported the creation of unions and peasants’ organizations); the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil, PCdoB) – based on the 1962 faction which supported Maoism (later Hoxhaist after 1976, although ironically its Hoxhaist shift coincided with political moderation) and opposed ‘revisionism’ and was famous for bogging down the military regime for years in the Araguaia guerrilla (1969-1976); and the Brazilian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Brasileiro, PCB) – the PCdoB’s rival, disputing the legacy of the original Communist Party (founded in 1922) but marginalized by refusing the armed struggle during the military regime, the rise of non-communist trade unionism and later the fall of the Wall (the remaining PCB is now a hardcore left-wing party and abandoned the Lula coalition by 2006). However, Lula needed to seek the support of other parties to gain a congressional majority, meaning that he became reliant on the backing of fickle, venal parties – parts of the PMDB (which had officially backed Serra in 2002), the Progressive Party (Partido Progressista, PP – actually Paulo Maluf’s party and the descendant of the most conservative factions of the old military party, ARENA/PDS) and the Brazilian Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro, PTB – the 1979 refoundation of Getúlio Vargas’ old corporatist workers’ party, and now a slimy ‘party for hire’ which has backed every government since Figueiredo). Some critics of the government claimed that Lula’s social policies only aimed at cosmetic amelioration rather than real changes, stemming from his unwillingness to challenge vested interests (which included the PT’s base in organized labour).

Shortly after taking office, the magazine Época showed that an advisor to José Dirceu (a loyal PT veteran), the then-Minister of the Casa Civil (Chief of Staff) and Lula’s éminence grise, had attempted to extort money for the PT from the sketchy boss of an illegal gambling game (jogo de bicho), Carlinhos Cachoeira. Lula rejected Dirceu’s offer to resign.

A far bigger scandal began in May 2005, when the opposition-aligned news magazine Veja released a video showing the boss of the state postal service negotiating a bribe. As part of the coalition agreement, the boss of the state postal service was nominated by the PTB’s federal deputy Roberto Jefferson, which intended to use control of that agency to milk money out of it. Feeling the pressure, Jefferson, in June 2005, decided to drop a bomb by alleging that the PT, coordinated by Dirceu and other PT apparatchiks, was paying a ‘monthly salaries’ (mensalão) to federal deputies (mostly from the PL, PP, PTB and PMDB) in exchange for their support. According to Jefferson, the elaborate vote-buying scheme (which was, however, not a novel idea in Brazilian politics) was coordinated by José Dirceu, administered by Delúbio Soares (the PT’s treasurer) and the money was handled by Marcos Valério (a PR/advertising businessman who received the money, by diverting resources from ad contracts, private bank loans or milking cash from telecom companies).

Jefferson was later impeached and stripped of his mandate and political rights for 8 years, but the scandal became one of the biggest corruption scandals in modern Brazilian democracy and had a grave impact on Lula’s government. The government and the PT initially denied all allegations, and tried to prevent the formation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) and later, when proof added up, accused Delúbio Soares and Marcos Valério of negotiating loans without the knowledge of the PT leadership, or spinning the scandal as a mere (‘normal’) case of an illegal parallel campaign fund. The PT also tried to paint the opposition parties as hypocritical, pointing out similar vote buying cases involving PSDB politicians (notably the illegal financing, by similar means and with the help of Marcos Valério, of the 1998 reelection campaign of the PSDB governor of Minas Gerais Eduardo Azeredo) and accepted a CPI into the mensalão after extending its mandate to cover vote-buying allegations against the Cardoso administration for the re-election amendment. José Dirceu, however, resigned as Chief of Staff in June 2005 and was stripped of his mandate as federal deputy in December 2005. In July 2005, José Genoíno – a PT deputy and the president of the PT – resigned the party presidency after an aide was arrested with R$200,000 in a bag and $100,000 in underpants; later that month, Delúbio Soares, who had also resigned his party position, was expelled from the PT after taking full responsibility for illegal parallel campaign funds used for the PT’s electoral campaigns. Duda Mendonça, the political marketing guru, told a CPI that the PT had paid him for his services through an offshore account in the Bahamas. The finance minister, Antonio Palocci, was accused of receiving monthly payments from businessmen when he was mayor of Ribeirão Preto (SP). In August, Lula asked the Brazilian people for forgiveness and said that he felt betrayed – there is no definitive proof that Lula knew anything of the bribes being paid by his party to his congressional allies.

The revelation of the mensalão unleashed a wave of public attention into other cases of congressional greed and political corruption. In September, the PP president of the Chamber, Severino Cavalcanti – a corrupt personage whose appeal was based on lobbying for backbenchers’ spoils and privileges – was forced to resign the presidency of the Chamber for taking bribes from a restaurant owner in the Congress building. Cavalcanti, when he was elected to the Chamber’s presidency in February 2005 (replacing PT deputy João Paulo Cunha, accused of participating in the mensalão), had been a dissident from the government benches and beaten a PT deputy backed by the presidency, but by September he had become an ally of the PT in the mensalão scandal in return for a few goodies. He was replaced by PCdoB deputy Aldo Rebelo.

The scandals severely damaged the PT’s reputation, breaking its old (pre-power) reputation as an honest party fighting for less corrupt politics in Brazil. However, by early 2006, the scandal was running out of steam despite attempts by the PT’s opponents to keep it alive. Some other scandals hurt the government in 2006 and in its second term. In March 2006, Palocci was forced to resign after a buildup of reports of financial misbehaviour while he was mayor, that he had received illegal gambling money and that he leaked the bank records of a concierge who told the press about Palocci’s presence at parties organized by associates. Other scandals included a long-running scheme, tolerated by the health ministry, where deputies from small parties took commissions when mayors bought overpriced ambulances; the arrest of PT operatives very close to Lula attempting to illegally purchase an incriminating dossier against José Serra in the 2006 election; an expense scandal involving misuse of corporate credit cards by ministers or the participation of the son of Lula’s Chief of Staff in an influence peddling scheme in September 2010.

The corruption scandals during Lula’s term exposed the business behind Brazilian politics and governing. Deputies, for electoral and political purposes, seek access to pork or access to the spoils. A vast spoils system operates at the top of Brazilian politics – politicians from coalition partners are able to appoint the heads of public agencies or corporations or get their own ministerial portfolios, and proceed to milk the money out of those jobs by receiving contributions from appointed bureaucrats, rigging public tenders and controlling patronage. The mensalão scandal started with such a scheme – as part of the business transaction between the government and the PTB, the PTB appointed the head of the postal service, who was in turn expected to pay monthly bribes to the PTB. José Dirceu, a ‘prime minister’/Rasputin-like éminence grise in Lula’s first administration, was the man responsible for handing out appointments to the PT’s slimy allies. However, despite the intense corruption, Brazilian institutions worked – the government took real steps to increase transparency, independent law enforcement agencies (the federal police, the independent Prosecutor General of the Republic) and the courts did their jobs freely and Brazilian campaign finance legislation is tougher and more transparent than similar legislation in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. Brazilian candidates for all offices must publicly disclose all of their assets to the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the body which administers elections.

Lula was reelected in October 2006. The mess of the mensalão had faded in the minds of most voters, and Lula’s base rewarded him for his social policies. Lula was officially supported by the PT, the PCdoB and the new Brazilian Republican Party (Partido Republicano Brasileiro, PRB), founded by PL dissidents (including Vice President José Alencar) and considered by some as the ‘political arm’ of the evangelical neo-Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), the third-largest evangelical denomination in Brazil and one of the most powerful and controversial evangelical churches (the UCKG is one of the richest religious denominations, owns several media sources, built a humongous replica of the Temple of Solomon in São Paulo and its leader bishop Edir Macedo is a billionaire). He received unofficial backing from the PL, the PSB and most of the PMDB.

His main opponent was the PSDB governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin. Alckmin’s political mentor was Mário Covas, one of the PSDB’s founding members, and he was elected vice-governor of the state of São Paulo as Mário Covas’ running-mate in 1994 (and reelected in 1998). He assumed office as governor in March 2001, after Covas died.  Alckmin was reelected governor in 2002, winning 58.6% in the runoff against José Genoino (PT). Paulo Maluf (PP), the early favourite, was defeated in the first round. After a successful term as governor, Alckmin imposed himself as the PSDB’s presidential candidate over rival claims. Fairly uncharismatic and introverted – he was nicknamed chuchu (a bland green vegetable) – he had trouble taking off. Alckmin’s candidacy was supported by the three main opposition parties: the PSDB, the PFL (which would rename itself ‘Democrats’ or Democratas in 2007 in a bid to modernize its image, as a right-wing liberal party rather than a bunch of old conservative coronels from the Nordeste) and the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Popular Socialista, PPS). The PPS was actually founded in 1992 by reformist dissidents of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), led by Roberto Freire, mimicking the transformation of the Italian PCI into the social democratic PDS (and, like in Italy, a small hardline minority remained communists, in Brazil being led by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer). The PPS opposed FHC’s two governments – supporting Lula in 1994, and then running its own candidate – Ciro Gomes, a former governor of Ceará (1991-1994) and PSDB finance minister (1994-1995), in 1998 and 2002 (11% and 12% respectively), although Gomes (who had become Minister of National Integration in Lula’s cabinet) left the PPS to join the PSB when the PPS left the governing coalition in 2003.

Lula also faced candidacies from two PT dissidents. Heloísa Helena, an outspoken Alagoas senator from the PT’s left, had broken with the PT in 2003 due to major disagreements with the conservative direction of Lula’s economic policies and his opportunistic alliances with corrupt parties. Expelled from the PT in December 2003, she was one of the founding members of the Socialism and Freedom Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, PSOL). Senator Cristovam Buarque, a former PT governor of the DF (1995-1999) and education minister (2003-2004), who left the PT in 2004, ran for the Democratic Labour Party (Partido Democrático Trabalhista, PDT). The PDT was founded in 1979, led by veteran leftist politician Leonel Brizola (the brother-in-law of deposed President João Goulart), who as PTB governor of Rio Grande do Sul (1959-1963) and federal deputy for Guanabara (1963-1964) was one of the main players in the highly-charged political debates which led up to the 1964 coup, pressuring Goulart to speed up controversial left-wing reforms including agrarian reforms and regulation of profit remittances by foreign corporations. In exile during the military regime, Brizola returned to Brazil with the amnesty in 1979 and created the PDT after losing the rights to the name PTB to Ivete Vargas, Getúlio Vargas’ grand-niece. In 1989, Brizola placed a close third in the first round of the presidential election (15.5% to Lula’s 16.1%). Brizola and brizolismo remained very powerful in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where he served as governor between 1983 and 1987 and again between 1991 and 1994. Brizola died in 2004. The PSOL and PDT both welcomed dissidents from the PT, as did the smaller Green Party (Partido Verde, PV).

In the first round, Lula won 48.6% against 41.6% for Alckmin, with Heloísa Helena winning 6.9% and Cristovam Buarque receiving only 2.6%. Lula had been widely expected to be reelected by the first round, but suffered from a late swing against him because of the backlash against the PT’s dirty tricks in the fake dossier against José Serra (the PSDB’s candidate for governor of São Paulo) and Lula’s refusal to participate in televised debates against his opponents. Alckmin, on the other hand, finished strong. However, Lula seized the initiative in the runoff campaign and claimed that Alckmin would privatize state-owned corporations and dismantle the Bolsa Familía (largely false accusations, besides the PSDB’s campaign focused on hitting the PT and Lula for corruption). Alckmin was unable to build on his first round result, and the runoff ended up as a Lula blowout: 60.8% to 39.2% for Alckmin, who lost votes from the first round.

Interestingly, the 2006 election was the realigning election in terms of voting patterns and the main coalitions/parties’ bases of support. Whereas in 2002, ‘Lula peace and love’ had fairly evenly distributed support throughout all regions and demographic groups, the 2006 election showed a much more polarized map and electorate. Lula swept the Nordeste with 77% (61.5% in 2002), Brazil’s poorest (and blackest/brownest) region, thanks to massive swings in his favour in the rural regions (particularly the arid and inhospitable sertão, home to the infamous latifúndios) – traditionally under the grip of conservative barons – where poor voters benefited from federal spending and Lula’s social programs. The success of the Lula coalition in the Nordeste has also had repercussions at the congressional and state level, where the PFL/DEM have suffered significant loses in their old regional base. On the other hand, Alckmin won the state of São Paulo and the South, the wealthiest (and whitest) regions of the country. Alckmin won 52.3% in São Paulo (state), which has always been fairly conservative despite being the PT’s cradle, and 53.5% in the South region; in 2002, Lula had won 55.4% in São Paulo and 58.8% in the South. In 2006, there was a clear polarization of voting patterns, with wealth, education and race (to a lesser extent) becoming the key variables. In past elections, such as 1989, there had been similar left-right polarization, but around different variables – in 1989, the main cleavage between Lula and Collor, for example, had been rural-urban.

The PMDB replaced the PT as the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies, while the opposition PSDB and PFL/DEM ranked as the third and fourth largest parties respectively. Paulo Maluf, who was himself elected federal deputy with the highest vote count of any candidate in the country, saw his party, the PP, win 42 seats. The PSB, PDT, PTB, PL, PPS, PV and PCdoB all won over 10 seats in the Chamber. In Amapá, former president José Sarney (PMDB) was reelected to the Senate, where he had been a key backer of the Lula government. In Alagoas, former president Fernando Collor was elected to the Senate for the tiny Partido Renovador Trabalhista Brasileiro (PRTB), although he jumped ship to the PTB within days.

In gubernatorial races, José Serra (PSDB) was elected governor of São Paulo in the first round, taking 57.9% against 31.7% for PT senator Aloizio Mercadante. Mercadante’s campaign, already in poor shape, was killed off by the PT’s fake dossier scandal. In Minas Gerais, popular PSDB governor Aécio Neves, the grandson of Tancredo Neves, was reelected with a huge 77% of the votes against the PT – all while Lula defeated Alckmin in the state, indicating a very strong ‘Lula-Aécio’ vote-splitting campaign, which Aécio tolerated much to the national PSDB’s displeasure. In Rio Grande do Sul, the PT’s Olivío Dutra – one of the party’s founders and the first PT mayor of Porto Alegre (1989-1992) – was unable to regain the office he lost in 2002, losing in the second round to Yeda Crusius (PSDB). In Rio de Janeiro, PMDB senator Sérgio Cabral was easily elected in the second round against right-wing candidate Denise Frossard (PPS). At the time, Cabral was supported by former governor Anthony Garotinho (a party-hopper, who was also PMDB back then) and his wife, outgoing governor Rosinha Garotinho. Garotinho, an evangelical Christian and former ally of Leonel Brizola, is a classic (but clownish) populist who is popular with poorer voters because of his pro-poor policies (meals and hotel nights at the symbolic price of R$1) but disliked by others for his thinly-veiled religious proselytizing and corruption (vote buying, illegal campaign funding). Garotinho, then in the PSB, had run for President in 2002 and placed third with 18% thanks to strong evangelical support. He had unsuccessfully tried to receive the PMDB’s nomination for President in 2006, but a short-lived ‘electoral verticalization’ rule in place at the time which forced parties to have the same alliances at all levels led the PMDB to remain neutral to retain its state-by-state alliances. Although Garotinho had (controversially) endorsed Alckmin in the runoff, Lula supported Cabral.

In Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos (PSB), the grandson of Miguel Arraes and the Minister of Science and Technology (2004-2005), was elected governor in the second round, winning 65.4% against 34.6% for incumbent governor Mendonça Filho (PFL), who had replaced powerful right-wing governor Jarbas Vasconcelos (PMDB) in March 2006. In the first round, the PT’s favourite – health minister Humberto Costa (who had been defeated by Jarbas Vasconcelos in 2002), was defeated, placing a close third. In Maranhão, Roseana Sarney (PFL but pro-Lula) – José Sarney’s daughter – was narrowly defeated in the second round by Jackson Lago (PDT), 48.2% to 51.8%, marking one of the first defeats of the Sarney clan in its own backyard in some 40 years. However, since Lago was soon embroiled in a corruption sting by the federal police, the TSE invalidated all votes cast in his favour in 2009 and Roseana Sarney was proclaimed elected in his stead. In Bahia, the hitherto hegemonic ‘carlist’ machine of ACM (which had ruled without interruption since 1989) suffered an historic – and unexpected – defeat when Jaques Wagner (PT), who had been minister of institutional relations under Lula, defeated incumbent governor Paulo Souto (PFL) in the first round (52.9% to 43%; Souto had led in all polls). In Ceará, incumbent governor Lúcio Alcântara (PSDB) was defeated in a landslide by Cid Gomes (PSB), the brother of Ciro Gomes.

The 2010 elections came at the peak of Lula’s popularity – the outgoing term-limited President had approval ratings over 80% (the highest for any Brazilian President), the economy was performing very well after recovering from a short economic crisis and Lula’s social programs were widely hailed as great successes and best-practices in reducing poverty. Lula handpicked his successor, choosing Dilma Rousseff, who had been Minister of the Casa Civil (Chief of Staff) since Dirceu’s resignation in 2005, and Minister of Mines and Energy prior to that. Dilma, as she is widely referred to in Brazil, was born in a middle-class family in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais) to a Bulgarian father and Brazilian mother in 1947. She was politicized as a student around the time of the 1964 military coup, and joined a non-communist far-left organization and opted for armed resistance (in the Comando de Libertação Nacional and then in VAR-Palmares) although she largely took an underground leadership rather than guerrilla role. As a member of VAR-Palmares, Dilma may have participated in that group’s most famous action – a raid on the safe of Ademar de Barros, an infamously corrupt populist former governor of São Paulo. Dilma was arrested in 1970 and tortured for 22 days, and was finally released from prison in 1972. She never returned to underground resistance, instead opting for non-electoral political activism by way of think-tanks linked to the MDB in Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul). In 1979, Dilma and her husband joined Leonel Brizola’s PDT – her husband was a PDT state deputy from 1982 to 1990 and a two-time unsuccessful mayoral candidate for the PDT in Porto Alegre, losing twice to the PT. Dilma herself never held elected office, serving as a technocratic cabinet member in a municipal administration in Porto Alegre (1985-1988) and then twice as secretary of mines and energy in the state government of Rio Grande do Sul (1993-1994, 1999-2002). Dilma broke with the PDT and joined the PT in 2001, after the short-lived PT-PDT alliance in the state fell apart during the 2000 municipal elections.

Her expertise on energy issues recognized – as well as her pragmatic relations with private businesses – she was appointed Minister of Mines and Energy in Lula’s cabinet. As minister, Dilma respected (and even expanded) all existing contracts with private firms, and her style received praise from the business sector. However, Dilma’s projects to expand the Brazilian electricity infrastructure to prevent another energy crisis often clashed with environment minister Marina Silva’s concern for such projects’ ecological footprints. As minister, she was also responsible for the development of the Luz para Todos (light for all) project, which aimed at providing free access to electricity for poor rural regions. In 2005, after José Dirceu’s resignation, Lula surprised many by appointing Dilma to replace him as his Chief of Staff.

Dilma’s candidacy for the PT as Lula’s preferred successor was in the works as early as 2008 but was only officially announced in June 2010. Dilma’s candidacy was supported by a broad coalition including the PMDB (which provided Dilma’s running-mate, the president of the Chamber of Deputies Michel Temer), PDT, PCdoB, PSB (which withdrew the early candidacy of Ciro Gomes, who only begrudgingly endorsed Dilma after the first round), PRB, the new Republic Party (Partido da República, PR) and three smaller parties including the Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristão, PSC). The PR, a venal and slimy populist assemblage of various opportunistic politicians, had been founded in 2006 by the merger of the old PL with the remnants of the far-right populist/nationalist PRONA, whose popular and charismatic leader Enéas Carneiro died in 2007.

The main opposition candidate was José Serra, who had served as governor of São Paulo since 2007 and was leaving office with fairly high approval ratings. Serra was supported by the PSDB, DEM, PPS, PTB and two smaller parties.

Marina Silva, who had served as Lula’s environment minister from 2003 to 2008 and had been a member of the PT for over two decades, had quit the PT in 2009, a year after she left cabinet in disagreement with the government’s environmental policies. As noted above, while she was environment minister, she clashed several times with Dilma over environmental policies and conservation. While Lula tried hard to straddle both sides in the environmental protection/economic development debate, some of his policies – such as the São Francisco river diversion project, the push of agribusiness in the rainforest regions and road construction in the rainforest – were criticized by environmentalists, while those leading those projects criticized Marina for delays in the issuing of permits. In 2009, Marina – who had been a PT senator from the Amazonian state of Acre since 1995 – left the PT, which she had joined in 1986, and joined the Green Party (Partido Verde, PV). The Greens had been part of Lula’s coalition in 2002, but left the government in 2005 over environmental policy differences (but Gilberto Gil, the famous Green-aligned singer who was Lula’s culture minister, stayed in). The PV has tended to be one of the more ideologically consistent and principled minor parties, although the PV has been divided between those friendlier to the PT and those more aligned with the PSDB-led right-wing opposition. Fernando Gabeira, a writer famous for his participation in the 1969 kidnapping of the US ambassador served as a PV federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro from 1995 to 2011 (with a brief switch to the PT in 2002-2003) and came very close to becoming mayor of Rio in 2008, and in recent years he has favoured alliances with the right. On the other hand, Sarney Filho – José Sarney’s son and PV federal deputy – began his career in ARENA/PDS and nowadays supports alliances with the PT. Marina became the PV’s candidate, without any other allies.

Marina is an evangelical Christian since 1997, and has some controversial socially conservative views (which are very out of the mainstream for a Green politician) – she is pro-life, opposes same-sex marriage, stem cell research, drug legalization and expressed sympathy for creationist views.

The candidates differed little on issues such as monetary and fiscal policy (both Serra and Dilma supporting the existing macroeconomic framework and orthodox policies), while clashing on questions such as the role of the state in the economy and foreign policy.

Dilma’s support, which was as low at 3% in 2008, shot up instantly as Lula started actively campaigning for her as his anointed successor in May 2010. With the beginning of free electoral programming in August 2010, Dilma had an unassailable lead over Serra’s faltering campaign and was set to win by the first round until the last week as Marina rapidly gained in the polls (8-10% since the beginning of the year, she began gaining in the last stretch). In the first round, Dilma underperformed and won 46.9%, while both Serra and Marina overperformed their polling: Serra won 32.6% and Marina came out as the real winner, with 19.3%. Marina managed to build an unusual composite coalition with middle-class socially liberal urban bobo voters and conservative evangelical voters.

Serra managed to build a stronger campaign in the runoff, while Dilma faced a wave of attacks from Serra concerning her inexperience and from religious leaders who alleged that she was personally pro-choice (she clarified that she would not touch Brazil’s restrictive abortion laws). Nevertheless, Dilma was handily elected, with 56% of the vote.

Dilma’s coalition won a three-fifths majority in the Chamber and the Senate, with the PT replacing the PMDB as the largest party in the lower house. On the right, the PSDB, PPS and especially DEM all suffered substantial loses in Congress. The most voted candidate for the Chamber in the county was Tiririca (PR), a professional clown and singer-songwriter, who basically ran a protest joke campaign and managed 1.348 million votes (the second-highest all-time number of votes for a candidate, after PRONA’s Enéas Carneiro in 2002). Upon his election, he faced serious questions about his literacy and was forced to pass a literacy test. His support, plus that of Anthony Garotinho (also from the PR, and the second-most voted candidate in Brazil), allowed the PR to win 41 seat, making it the fifth largest party in the Chamber.

In Minas Gerais’ senate race, term-limited governor Aécio Neves (PSDB) and former President Itamar Franco (PPS) were elected to the Senate. In the gubernatorial contest in MG, Aécio’s successor Antônio Anastasia was elected to a full term with over 62% in the first round. In São Paulo, in an amusing game of musical-chairs, Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) was elected to succeed Serra as governor, with 50.6% in the first round. Aloysio Nunes (PSDB), a former federal deputy and justice minister under FHC, was elected to the first seat in the Senate with a surprisingly massive vote (he broke the existing record for the highest number of votes for any senatorial candidate in Brazil); the second seat went to Marta Suplicy (PT), a former mayor of São Paulo (2000-2004) but her co-candidate and presumed favourite, singer and TV star Netinho de Paula (PCdoB), was narrowly defeated after a story of domestic assault. In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent PMDB governor Sérgio Cabral was reelected with two-thirds of the vote against 20.7% for right-wing candidate Fernando Gabeira (PV). Lindberg Farias (PT), a former student leader and key player in the 1992 caras-pintadas movement for Collor’s impeachment, was elected to the Senate with the most votes while incumbent Senator Marcelo Crivella (PRB), a UCKG bishop and gospel singer, was reelected. In Rio Grande do Sul, PSDB governor Yeda Crusius’ administration became a trainwreck before it even began in 2007 (broken promises, corruption allegations, coalition infighting) so she was handily defeated (18.4% and third) while Tarso Genro (PT), was elected in the first round. In the DF, the DEM governor elected in 2006 – José Arruda – had been arrested while in office and later impeached after a vast corruption scandal (the mensalão do DEM). Former federal deputy Agnelo Queiroz (PT), hardly cleaner himself, was elected in the runoff with 66% of the votes against the wife of another corrupt former governor Joaquim Roriz (PSC).

In the Nordeste, the old right-wing barons suffered some major defeats. In Bahia, PT governor Jaques Wagner was reelected in a landslide (63.4%) despite having broken with the PMDB. In Pernambuco, governor Eduardo Campos (PSB) was one of the most popular governors in the country, so he was reelected with a phenomenal 82.8% against Jarbas Vasconcelos. In the senatorial contest, veteran PFL/DEM senator and former Vice President Marco Maciel was defeated in a landslide, with both seats going to the left (including one to the PT’s Humberto Costa). In Ceará, in what was perhaps one of the most unexpected result, popular PSDB senator Tasso Jereissati was defeated after Lula campaigned strongly against him. In Alagoas, incumbent governor Teo Vilela Filho (PSDB) was ultimately narrowly reelected in the second round of an exciting gubernatorial race which saw a fierce first round battle with senator/impeached President Collor (PTB) and Collor’s nemesis, former two-term governor Ronaldo Lessa (PDT). Collor was narrowly defeated by Lessa for second place in the first round (28.8% to 29.2%, with 39.6% for the incumbent), but despite an unholy alliance with Collor, Lessa was defeated in the second round. In the senatorial contest, incumbent senator Renan Calheiros (PMDB) had no problems with reelection, despite a major scandal in 2007 (Renangate: a business was accused of making payments to Renan’s ex-mistress, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter). He had narrowly survived an impeachment vote following that scandal. In Maranhão, despite another wave of corruption allegations hitting the Sarney clan (José Sarney was by then back as President of the Senate), governor Roseana Sarney (PMDB) was reelected in the first round.

Dilma’s presidency

Upon her election, Dilma – like Lula in 2002 – reiterated her commitment to follow Lula’s macroeconomic policy. Alexandre Tombini, another supporter of low-inflation policies, replaced Meirelles as President of the Central Bank, while Guido Mantega – a more ‘developmentalist’ petista, stayed on as finance minister (a post he has held since 2006).

Dilma’s cabinet was the product of a tricky balancing act, in which she needed to please every part of her broad coalition. Most ministerial portfolios went to the PT – including key ones such as finance, justice, education, health and industry – but the PT’s allies were rewarded with some portfolios. The PMDB, for example, received the Ministry of Social Security, the ministry with the highest operating budget. The PMDB, however, was disappointed with the meager clutch of ministries awarded to them. The PR received transportation, the PCdoB retained sports, the PDT got labour and the PRB received fisheries and aquaculture. These smaller parties, as it turned out, came to feel that they ‘owned’ these ministries and treated them as their private property. The President also has over 25,000 jobs in boards, agencies, state-owned firms and public institutions in her gift – although the government has insisted that these jobs largely go to professional civil servants, the truth is that a lot of these jobs are patronage posts used to reward allies. Antonio Palocci, dismissed as finance minister in 2006 following a scandal, returned to a highly powerful position as Dilma’s Chief of Staff (Minister of the Casa Civil)

After the booming economy in the last year(s) of Lula’s term, the economy was clearly overheating and Brazil’s structural economic problems became clearer. In 2011, the economy grew by only 2.7%, the slowest growth rate in South America and lower than any of Brazil’s other BRICS partners. Inflation was also fairly high as Dilma took office, and inflation hit 6.5% – the upper limit of inflation set by the Central Bank – in 2011. The government raised interest rates from 10.75% to 11.25% (with further increases to 12.5% by summer 2011), increased the minimum wage to R$545/month and cut the federal budget by R$50 billion – all measures adopted in order to cool the overheating economy and reduce inflation. Critics, however, pointed out that Dilma did little to slow the hectic increase in federal spending (which has been growing since Lula), especially on salaries, pensions and resources for the BNDES (the national development bank) for loans on infrastructure projects. In 2010, a large part of the huge GDP growth had come from the typical pre-election binge spending by all levels of government.

The government continued the social programs which had made Lula so popular, again aimed at improving the standard of living for low-income Brazilians. In March 2010, the government renewed the Growth Acceleration Program (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, PAC) as PAC-2, continuing the federal government’s large public works and infrastructure stimulus program first introduced in 2007 (Dilma, as Chief of Staff, had been a key player in the launch of the first PAC in 2007). PAC-2 foresaw R$1.59 trillion investments on a range of government projects and public works, including projects such as Minha Casa, Minha Vida (aimed at providing 2 million homes by 2014, 60% of them to poor families). In 2011, the government launched Brasil sem Miséria, a social program (in reality an expansion of the Bolsa Familía) aimed at removing 16.2 million people from ‘extreme poverty’ (living on less than R$70 per month) and ensuring that all welfare recipients have a monthly household per-person income over R$70Other programs included support to microentrepreneurship, construction of cisterns for consumption and agriculture and ‘Science without Borders’ (funding 75,000 scholarships for post-secondary students to study STEM subjects abroad). Official sources claim that the government’s anti-poverty programs and initiatives have been very successful at alleviating poverty, improving poor families’ living conditions, empowering women, expanding education and improving health outcomes.

Early in her first term, Dilma continued her predecessor’s moderate economic policies, much to the chagrin of forces further left and the PT’s traditional allies in organized labour. A notable example came with airports – passenger numbers have expanded in recent years, and the organization of major international sporting events – the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics – required larger, modern and well-managed airport. Brazilian airports are managed by Infraero, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Defense which is a byword for bureaucratic obstruction and mismanagement. In April 2011, the government announced that it would grant concessions to private companies to manage some of Brazil’s largest airports. Thus far, 6 major airports (Natal, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Campinas, São Paulo-Guarulhos, Rio de Janeiro-Galeão) are administered by private companies with concessions with minority participation (49%) by Infraero in 5 of them.

The government also cut payroll taxes for selected industries, widened a scheme which allows small businesses to use a simplified system for filing tax returns, worked to rationalize interstate taxes and sought to improve productivity by offering more scholarships and technical training.

Public spending on pensions and old age dependency in Brazil and other major economies (source: The Economist, Sept. 28, 2013)

One policy area which is of growing urgency for the federal government is pensions – Brazil has an absurdly generous constitutionally-entrenched pension system for private and public sector workers. Brazil spends about 11% of its GDP on pensions – slightly less than Italy and France, but far more than the UK, Canada or the US; all countries which have a much older population than Brazil. The pension system is extremely generous – for old age pensions on full pay with a high cap, private sector workers need only contribute for 15 years and work until 65 (men)/60 (women), with the possibility for a slightly less generous pension if one has contributed for 35 (men)/30 (women) years. Public sector workers have it even better – with a slightly earlier retirement age (60 and 55, only for those hired since a 1998 reform which increased the retirement ages from 53 and 48), and a minimum of 10 years of work (before 1998, there wasn’t even a vesting period). Contribution rates are very high, which may discourage formal employment.

There is a very strong re-distributive element in the pension system – there are exemptions from contributions and reduced contribution rates for low-wage earners, and a guaranteed right to a minimum monthly pension of R$678 to poor men and women (above the ages of 65 and 60) even if they have never contributed. Rural workers, regardless of income, can retire earlier and get R$622 per month without ever contributing. All pensions must exceed the minimum wage, which increases every year. Finally, bereaved spouses – unlike in almost every other country – get the full sum of the deceased’s pension (even if they were not retired) for the rest of their lives. On the whole, Brazilians – on average – can retire on 70% of final pay at 54, compared to 61 in Greece (whose pension system was held as one of the culprits for the crisis). As a result, the pension fund has a large deficit.

In contrast, while Brazil spends a lot on pensions (roughly half of the federal budget goes to pension, with another large chunk for salaries), it spends very little on infrastructure, investments and children. Therefore, old age poverty is less of an issue, but child poverty is a major problem in Brazil. Children-oriented benefits are sparse and meager – the means-tested Bolsa Família grants only average R$155 per month. Reforms to the pension system are seen as inevitable, but they remain very tough – partly because the constitution guarantees lots of rights to workers and pensioners, partly because it requires a lot of political capital. In February 2012, Congress passed a reform which caps the defined-benefits plans of future federal government employees at the private sector’s levels (R$3916 per month). In 2013, the government was forced to abandon a reform which would include a minimum retirement age. Many analysts insist that further, tougher reforms are necessary – The Economist proposed a minimum retirement age, less generous benefits (which are currently constitutionally tied to the minimum wage) and is critical of the yearly increases in the minimum wage (it is increased by the sum of the previous year’s inflation and GDP growth from the year before that), but admitted that such changes are unlikely to find much congressional support.

In her first years in office, Dilma faced an avalanche of scandals coming from her cabinet. In June 2011, Antonio Palocci, the Chief of Staff, was forced to resign after an unexplained 20-fold increase in his personal wealth as a result of consultancy work. Taking advantage of the government’s weakness, the PMDB in Congress took the opportunity to defy the government by granting an amnesty for illegal logging prior to 2008; while the ‘evangelical bench’ (a caucus of evangelical congressmen) forced the government to drop plans for anti-homophobia education in schools. In July 2011, Veja revealed a corruption scheme in the Ministry of Transportation, under Alfredo Nascimento (PR-AM), with the the PR demanding a 4% kickback from contractors interested in government contracts – the money went to fill the PR’s treasury or ‘commissions’ to congressmen from states where those contracts would be. Nascimento resigned quickly, but a rather pissed off PR stopped actively supporting the government. In August 2011, the Minister of Agriculture Wagner Rossi (PMDB-SP) was forced to resign after investigations revealed that a ‘criminal organization’ existed under his eyes in his ministry (according to the Federal Police). Rossi was accused of being chummy with lobbyists, covering up bribes and electoral crimes and using public funds to pay off the debts of private companies. In August 2011, a police raid dismantled a scheme to divert public funds in the Ministry of Tourism, and Sarney ally Pedro Novais (PMDB-MA) was forced to resign the portfolio. In August 2011, the Minister of Cities, Mário Negromonte (PP-BA) became mixed up in a corruption scheme (bribing congressmen to support him in an internal conflict in the PP) and, later, other corruption accusations forced him to resign in February 2012. In October 2011, the Minister of Sports Orlando Silva (PCdoB-SP) was accused of using the ministry to provide a funding stream, charging kickbacks to offer contracts or funneling them towards affiliated businesses and NGOs, and he was personally accused of receiving kickbacks in return for directing funds to corrupt contractors under a program intended to bring sports facilities to children in poor areas. The scheme allegedly began under Agnelo Queiroz (PT-DF), the Minister of Sports from 2003 to 2006 (as a member of the PCdoB at the time) and governor of the DF since 2010. To save Agnelo, the PT negotiated Orlando Silva’s resignation but the PCdoB retained the sports ministry with Aldo Rebelo. In November 2011, the Minister of Labour Carlos Lupi (PDT-RJ) was accused of charging kickbacks for contracts, extorting NGOs, siphoning off public funds to semi-phantom NGOs and accepting flights from a contractor. Lupi initially denied any wrongdoing or any flights, but was forced to resign when that was proven to be a lie.

Dilma’s tough stance against corrupt ministers – even if, in reality, she only forced them out when things were far too hot for her – was popular, and her approval ratings were very high throughout 2011 and most of 2012.

In 2012, a Federal Police investigation revealed close links between illegal gambling boss Carlos Cachoeira (arrested by the police operation in February 2012) and politicians from both the government and opposition in the Centre-West region. Top among them was opposition senator Demóstenes Torres (DEM-GO), accused of using his influence and power to advocate for Cachoeira’s business interests in exchange for gifts and money; Demóstenes left his party and became the second senator to be impeached by his colleagues in July 2012. A CPI into the Cachoeira case looked at links between the gambling boss and governor Marconi Perillo (PSDB-GO), governor Agnelo Queiroz (PT-DF), governor Sérgio Cabral (PMDB-RJ), deputies from several parties (PT, PP, PPS, PCdoB, PTB, PSDB) and bureaucrats.

In a welcome blow to the tradition of impunity for political corruption, there was finally judicial action on the mensalão case from Lula’s first term. The process was, as is usually the case in Brazil, very drawn-out and convoluted: in April 2006, the Prosecutor General of the Republic had indicted 40 people for crimes including racketeering, embezzlement, money laundering, bribery and tax evasion; the STF received most of the accusations and began a trial in August 2007 and the STF finally handed down sentences in September 2012. The three leading political masterminds – José Dirceu, Delúbio Soares and José Genoino were found guilty and sentenced to jail (Dirceu received 10 years and 10 months); Marcos Valério was found guilty and sentenced to over 40 years in jail and two other of his associates also received very long jail sentences. After a final round of appeals, in March 2014, the STF reduced Dirceu’s sentence to 7 years and 11 months in a ‘semi-open’ jail regime (Genoino got 4 years 8 months, and Delúbio Soares got 6 years and 8 months) and Marcos Valério’s sentence was reduced to 37 years and 5 months in a closed regime. João Paulo Cunha (PT-SP), who was President of the Chamber during the scandal (2003-2005) and had been accused of receiving money from Marcos Valério, was finally sentenced to 6 years and 4 months in jail. Senior managers from the private Banco Rural and the state-controlled Banco do Brasil were also convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Growth slowed significantly in 2012, with only 1% GDP growth while inflation remained in the upper band with 5.84%. Controversially, in August 2011, the Central Bank – allegedly pushed by the government – decided to reduce interest rates by 0.5%, to 12%. By October 2012, the Central Bank had cuts its interest rates even further, to an all-time low of 7.25%. The opposition claimed that the Central Bank was losing its independence and succumbing to the government’s push for lower interest rates. The image of the government publicly ‘bullying’ the Central Bank to cut interest rates, undermined Brazil’s reputation for macroeconomic orthodoxy in the eyes of investors and markets lost trust in Dilma. The poor growth rates for 2012 came as a shock to the government, and were partly the product of a fall in investments despite policies to reduce business costs, lower interest rates and Central Bank interventions to engineer a 20% fall in the real’s value.

The primary surplus worsened in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, the government recorded a primary surplus (before interest payments) of 2.39% of GDP, missing the 3.1% target. Besides, the government has tended to engage in (legal) creative accounting to fudge the surplus figures in the past. In 2013, the primary surplus fell to only 1.9%. Many analysts were also worried about the government’s plans to loosen up the praised 2000 fiscal responsibility law, passed by FHC’s administration, which puts ‘breaks’ on excessive spending by all levels of government and requiring accountability from governments.  The trade balance also worsened beginning in 2011-2012. From 2001 to 2012, Brazil ran regular trades surpluses primarily due to the export of mining and agricultural products (soybeans). In 2013, the country started recording trade deficits mainly due to the high exports of consumption products and the growing weight of fuel imports.

Responding to the economic slowdown, the government introduced some short-term protectionist measures while taking modest steps towards more constructive longer-term reforms. In September 2011, it imposed higher taxes on imported cars, in a bid to force foreign carmakers to build factories in Brazil. In 2012, Dilma announced that the government would grant concessions to private companies to invest in roads and railways; inviting them to build, upgrade and operate toll roads and railways. However, in 2013, the auctions were delayed because of the government’s unwillingness to allow a competitive return alienated investors. On top of that, the government had trouble extracting support from Congress – it took typical arm-twisting and pork to get congressmen to approve a law increasing competition and private investment in crowded ports (private ports can now handle third-party cargo and hire their own staff rather than casual workers from the dockworkers’ union).

Dilma’s government also proved quite defiant to public sector workers’ demands for higher wages – teachers and professors in federal universities went on strike in 2012, demanding a substantial pay raise, and the movement was joined by the federal police and other public servants. In the end, they were granted an inflation-only offer of 15.8% over three years. These strikes were led by the CUT, the largest union confederation historically closely linked to the PT.

The custo Brasil (source: The Economist, Sept. 28, 2013)

With rising interest rates in 2013 – inflation reached 5.91% that year, again in the upper range of the Central Bank’s band – the Central Bank finally increased interest rates beginning in April 2013, gradually reaching the current level of 11.25%. The government was initially reluctant to increase interest rates, and tried to control inflation by cutting sales taxes and holding down the price of basic necessities. Some of the government’s anti-inflation policy initiatives were criticized as amateurish and bad for other sectors of the economy – keeping oil prices low weakened Petrobras and the sugarcane ethanol industry, electorally-motivated electricity subsidies and rate cuts have led to fears that Brazil may face another electricity shortage. In late 2013, the government moved to tighten credit, by announcing that it would stop capitalizing the national development bank (BNDES)

One of the major factors holding down the Brazilian economy and weakening the country’s competitiveness is the custo Brasil – the high cost of doing business in Brazil, because of factors including excessive red tape (a long delay to start a business), a slow bureaucracy, the high tax burden (Brazil’s tax burden, at about 38% of GDP, is the second-highest in Latin America after Argentina), high export/import costs, expensive labour costs, high electricity prices, poor infrastructure, high interest rates and economic cartels. Dilma’s government promised to reduce the custo Brasil and repeatedly floated several ideas, but ultimately was able to do very little: nothing came of promises for broad-based tax cuts or abolishing taxes on electricity.

Infrastructure, as noted above, is a major weakness in the Brazilian economy. Brazilian roads, airports, railways and ports are commonly described as being in disastrous shape with little government investment (indeed – the feds spend only 1.5% of GDP on infrastructure). A McKinsey Global Institute report on infrastructure worldwide measured the total value of Brazil’s ‘infrastructure stock’ at only 16%, extremely low compared to a worldwide average of 71% (or 64% in the US, 58% in Canada and 57% in the UK). Obviously, this has ramifications on the economy – Brazilian producers, like farmers, spend far more than their counterparts abroad on transportation costs.

More broadly, the lack of investments weakens the Brazilian economy and, as the electricity crisis in FHC’s last term showed, may have disastrous effects. Because the government can not, constitutionally, shrink pensions or cut the public sector, the ax falls on investments. Even when there are investments, the results are often seen as disappointing – the result of Lula’s first PAC (the big state-led public works program) were disappointing, and state-run companies like Infraero mismanage their investment budgets so little of it actually gets spent properly.

Brazil came to the fore of international attention in June 2013 – not because of the FIFA Confederations Cup, but rather because of the huge wave of popular protests throughout Brazil’s largest cities (described as the largest protest wave in Brazil since the 1992 Fora Collor movement for Collor’s impeachment). The movement began in São Paulo with the Movimento Passe Livre‘s protests against public transit fare hikes (although similar protests on the same subject had already been organized in other cities in 2012 and early 2013) – the city’s newly-elected mayor Fernando Haddad (PT) had announced a fare increase from R$3 to R$3.2 (costs had been frozen for the municipal elections in 2012 and a January fee hike delayed to help the feds massage the inflation figures), sparking protests in early June. The ‘first phase’ of the protests, largely in São Paulo but spreading fitfully to other cities, were more violent, focused quasi-exclusively on transportation/transit and had little sympathy from the press or the population. The conservative media decried the MPL as radical leftist activists with unrealistic aims, and urged the police to crack down. Commuters were originally hardly fond of disturbances caused by the young protesters. However, on June 13, a brutal and excessive crackdown by São Paulo’s military police completely changed the situation – the movement became national, it transformed from a single-issue movement to broad-based protests of dissatisfaction (similar to the Turkish protests in 2013) and the public overwhelmingly sided with the protests.

Beginning on June 17 until the end of the month, and coinciding with the FIFA Confederations Cup, there were huge protests in cities throughout Brazil – with the biggest crowds in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Porto Alegre, Goiânia, Vitória and Recife – with the biggest rallies on June 18 (430,000), June 20 (1.5 million) and June 21 (330,000).

The immediate cause of the mass protest movement was police repression and brutality in São Paulo and other cities on June 13, when the military police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas to indiscriminately disperse protesters leading to hundreds of arrests and numbers of wounded protesters and journalists. In the second phase, the aims of the protests became more diffuse – demanding less corruption, better public services, control of inflation and protesting the high spending on the FIFA Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup. The 2014 FIFA World Cup was the most expensive tournament in the history of the World Cup, at a cost of about US$ 14 billion, compared to US$4 billion in South Africa 2010. The lavish (over)spending on the World Cup and the construction of five new stadiums in host cities was one of the major criticisms of the protesters, contrasting the binge spending on first-class stadiums (some in cities, like Manaus, which will struggle to use the stadiums after the World Cup) with the low spending on public services. Economic causes for the protests included the high taxes (with the sentiment that taxpayers get little in return), public transit costs for low-income workers and increased inflation eating into Brazilians’ purchasing power. Political causes included widespread corruption, congressional incompetence and impunity and controversial legislation. Protesters demanded the rejection of PEC 37, a constitutional amendment which would reduce prosecutors’ powers to investigate politicians; and a ‘gay cure law’ (allowing psychologists to consider homosexuality as an ‘illness’ and prescribe ‘gay cure therapy’) which had been approved by the Chamber’s Commission on Human Rights and Minorities, chaired by noted racist and homophobic neo-Pentecostal pastor Marco Feliciano (PSC-SP). Other protesters also called for the resignation of the President of the Senate, Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), who had survived an impeachment vote after the 2007 Renangate scandal (allegations that a lobbyist had paid maintenance on his behalf to a mistress with whom he had had a child, and that he then faked receipts for the sale of cattle to try to prove that he could have afforded to pay her himself). The protests had a marked anti-partisan or non-partisan tone, although many protesters, of middle-class background, had left-wing views.

After politicians and the conservative press dismissed the first wave of protesters as radical vandals who needed to be roughed up, the government and Dilma tried to embrace the protest movement and Dilma claimed that she understood the demands of protesters. Lula claimed that the PT had been wrong to distance itself from young people, and was now paying the price. São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad (PT-SP) and Rio mayor Eduardo Paes (PMDB-RJ) both met with protesters in their cities and proposed freezing public transit fares. On June 21, Dilma called a meeting with the top brass of the state including ministers, Vice President Michel Temer and the President of the Chamber Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN) and Dilma addressed the nation in a televised address that evening. She promised to improve public services, bring foreign doctors to expand the universal healthcare service (SUS), meet with leaders of the peaceful protests, allocate oil royalties to education and healthcare (a proposal rejected by Congress in 2012) and said that government loans for stadiums would be paid back in full and that they didn’t come from the ordinary budget (but rather in the form of subsidized credits from the BNDES to construction firms – who, as it happens, are big contributors to political parties). After meeting with the MPL, mayors and state governors, Dilma later announced five key commitments: investments in public transit, continuing measures to control inflation and ensure economic stability, acceleration of investments in healthcare and attracting doctors to work in remote and poor regions for the SUS, 100% of oil royalties for education/healthcare and political reform including a constituent assembly, declaring corruption a felony (rather than misdemeanor) and a plebiscite on constitutional reform. The next day, however, the likely unconstitutional proposal for a constituent assembly was shelved in favour of a plebiscite (Dilma had apparently decided on a constituent assembly without consultation). Dilma met with union leaders, but was unsuccessful in getting them to call off a general strike for July 11 and union leaders left the meeting angry that the government had used the meeting to boast their plans rather than listen to the unions’ demands (which included 10% of GDP for healthcare, 10% of GDP for education, 40h work week, agrarian reform, political reform, investments in public transit, democratization of the media etc).

Congress suddenly stopped being their usual grubby and self-interested selves, and passed legislation which made corruption a heinous crime, soundly rejected PEC 37 and killed off the ‘gay cure law’. The government moved forward with proposals for a plebiscite (in Brazil, a plebiscite is understood as being before the creation of a law and the people approves or rejects a question; a referendum, which the opposition wanted, is held after the passage of a law to ratify it) – with ideas including campaign finance reform, electoral reform and anti-corruption measures. However, as the protests died down in July and politicians got back to being themselves, the idea for a plebiscite was all but forgotten. The parties disagreed on what form political and electoral reform should take – the PT supports public financing of campaigns and closed-list PR, the PMDB is split on electoral reform but some may favour single-member FPTP while the PSDB supports MMP. No major party seriously supports abolishing the over-representation of states in the Chamber (as it would require a constitutional amendment).

The protest wave died down, however, at the end of June – although some smaller protests occurred in July and once again in the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The June 2013 protests, with hindsight, became a clear before-after moment for Dilma’s presidency. Since taking office, Dilma enjoyed high approval ratings – in 2012 and early 2013, over 60% of respondents evaluated her performance as ‘good/very good’, about 30% as ‘regular’ and only 5-7% as ‘bad/very bad’. She had wide approval across party lines, even on the centre-right. On June 6-7 2013, Datafolha (a major pollster) pegged her approval at 57% good, 33% regular and 9% bad. On June 27-28, the same pollster showed that her approval collapsed to 30% good, 43% regular and 25% bad. Although her ‘bad’ ratings declined in the last months of 2013 and her ‘good’ ratings moved up to 40%, she has never reached the same pre-protest approval levels.

In July 2013, Dilma launched the Mais Médicos (more doctors) program to attract doctors to work in under-served remote regions and the peripheries of major cities (the general spatial pattern in Brazilian urban areas is that the peripheries are poor, while the inner city core is the most middle-class – this is especially the case in São Paulo). Given that the government’s efforts, through various incentives, to attract Brazilian med school grads and doctors to work in remote regions were woefully unsuccessful, it effectively turned towards foreign countries – in particular, Cuba. The Brazilian government signed a contract with the Cuban government to bring Cuban medical professionals to work in Brazil, under controversial contracts negotiated by the Cuban and Brazilian governments (the doctors were paid US$1,000, which was sent to the Cuban government which returned only 40% to the doctors). The program was criticized by the opposition, the Brazilian Medical Association and the Federal Council of Medicine, but public opinion was generally narrowly in favour. Some credited the increase in Dilma’s approval ratings in late 2013 to the program.

Economic indicators did not improve in 2013 or 2014, although growth stood at 2.3% in 2013. Inflation clocked in at 5.91% in 2013 and monthly inflation numbers in 2014 have suggested that inflation will again be quite high this year. Brazil’s trade balance worsened, even registering a deficit in the first two months of 2014 and again in September 2014. In February 2014, finance minister Guido Mantega announced a budget including R$44 billion in spending cuts and 1.9% target for primary surplus (which analysts are now saying Brazil will miss).

Brazil successfully hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Although public opinion was mixed-to-negative about the event prior to the kickoff in June 2014, most became supportive once it got underway and concerns about the risk of a ‘fiasco’ or disaster were proved wrong. Of course, Brazil was shaken by its 7-1 humiliation (Mineiraço) against Germany in the semi-final in Belo Horizonte, but there were almost no riots in the aftermath and it had no political impact (there was certainly some speculation that, in football-crazy Brazil, Dilma could be hurt by the Seleção’s defeat).

2014 election: Candidates, Issue and Campaign

Dilma ran for reelection. Dilma was elected in 2010 largely thanks to her mentor and predecessor’s popularity (especially with poor Brazilians in the Nordeste) and the good shape of the Brazilian economy at the time, although it was already clear in 2010 that Dilma was a strong personality herself and would not be a ‘pawn’ of Lula. Nevertheless, immediately after her victory, many wondered if Lula would run again for a third non-consecutive term in 2014 and that Dilma would only be a placeholder for the four-year term. However, Dilma slowly emerged from Lula’s shadow and proved herself – although less bold in its gestures, her government was more technocratic, feminine, personally loyal and firmer in its principles than Lula’s administration was. Although in the first year in office, Dilma’s ministers mostly got in the news for scandals, the appointments of capable and competent ministers like Eleonora Menicucci (who had shared a jail cell with Dilma in the 1970s) as women’s minister and Marco Antonio Raupp (a respected economist) as science minister were well received. Lula himself was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in October 2011 and underwent treatment and chemo (he cut his hair and beard, a dramatic change in his appearance), and was fully recovered in the spring of 2012.

Lula has retained an active role in politics since 2010. In the 2012 municipal elections, Lula used his power as unofficial party boss in São Paulo to sideline former PT mayor Marta Suplicy in favour of education minister Fernando Haddad (who he felt could have a stronger appeal to middle-class voters) and Lula actively promoted Haddad as his candidate – as a result of his campaigning, Haddad moved from 7% in the first polls into a three-way tie for first in the last poll, and ended up a strong second in the first round with 29% against 30.8% for José Serra (PSDB) and only 21.6% for initial frontrunner Celso Russomano (PRB). In the second round, Haddad soundly defeated Serra (55.6% to 44.4%), despite São Paulo being a conservative city (his victory also owed a lot to Serra’s unpopularity, being seen as an old politician who doesn’t know when to stop and one with little loyalty to the jobs he holds). Lula handpicking Fernando Haddad was initially seen as a potentially disastrous move, but in the end it was a masterful act of genius from a remarkable political operator. Despite his keen interest in politics, Lula repeatedly denied interest in a 2014 candidacy and reiterated his full support for Dilma on several occasions.

Although Dilma never recovered from June 2013, she remained seen as the favourite for reelection in 2014 given her resilient base of support and the weakness of the opposition, which struggled to profit from the protests. Certainly the leading opposition party, the PSDB, was unable to profit much from the protests because it too was identified as part of the corrupt political system and São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin initially supported a hardline policy against the protesters. The PSDB’s administration in São Paulo was also hit by a corruption investigation – companies building and maintaining train and metro lines were suspected of having formed a cartel and defrauding the state of hundreds of millions of reais.

One of the few politicians who stood to gain from the protests was Marina Silva, the Green candidate in 2010. Marina, however, left the PV in June 2011 and launched a new political platform, Rede Sustentabilidade, in January 2013 with the clear aim of getting the party registered with the TSE and running for president in 2014. However, in October 2013, one year before the election, the TSE denied her party’s registration because it had failed to gather the required signatures (492,000).

Dilma had difficult relations with her ‘base’ in Congress throughout her administration, having to deal with prickly and conceited allies who often threw fits when they were unhappy with something. The PMDB, as it usually does, threatened to ditch the PT several times – mostly to extract more concessions from the government. The PT managed to get the corrupt PR back on board before the election.

A key player in the 2010 coalition, the PSB – led by the ambitious and wildly popular governor of Pernambuco Eduardo Campos – began asserting its independence from the PT and the government as early as 2011 and speculation about Campos’ presidential ambitions were commonplace in 2012. The PSB did well in the 2012 municipal elections, with key victories over the PT in Recife, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Cuiabá and Campinas. In Belo Horizonte, PSB mayor Márcio Lacerda was also supported by the state’s popular former governor and likely 2014 candidate senator Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG). As governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos was a pragmatic reformist – he reformed education, extended the school day, attracted a host of new industries to the state, opened new hospitals, teamed up with NGOs and the private sector to reform education and healthcare, challenged public sector unions, worked to tackle poverty, emphasized government transparency and implemented several successful and internationally-recognized programs to tackle gender inequality or crime. As a result of his competent administration, the state enjoyed solid growth, educational outcomes improved, infant mortality decreased, life expectancy increased and the homicide rate fell significantly. To his critics, however, Campos had the trappings of a (modern) Northeastern coronel – at any rate, Campos was a rather skilled and wily politician.

Campos’ presidential candidacy and the PSB’s break from the coalition elicited opposition from the other leading PSB coronels in the Nordeste – the Gomes brothers in Ceará (governor Cid Gomes and his brother Ciro Gomes), who supported Dilma. Ironically, Ciro Gomes had wanted to be the PSB’s presidential candidate in 2010 but his candidacy was shoved aside by PSB leaders who supported Dilma, much to his displeasure. The Gomes brothers joined the Republican Party of Social Order (Partido Republicano da Ordem Social, PROS), a nondescript party which had been founded in 2010.

On the other hand, a group of dissidents from the DEM, PSDB and PP led by the former DEM mayor of São Paulo Gilberto Kassab (2006-2012) moved towards the government and formed the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrático, PSD) in March 2011. The PSD’s ranks also included the governor of Santa Catarina Raimundo Colombo (ex-DEM), senator and agriculturalist Kátia Abreu (PSD-TO), veteran politician and São Paulo vice-governor Guilherme Afif Domingos (ex-DEM).

Dilma‘s national coalition for reelection included the PT, the PMDB (with Vice President Michel Temer as her running-mate once more), the PSD, the PP, the PR, the PCdoB, the PDT, the PRB and the Gomes brothers in the PROS.

Dilma’s campaign focused heavily on the Lula/Dilma record since 2003 – the manifesto submitted to the TSE read like a thorough grocery list of the governments’ achievements in a number of fields, most significant among them being: nearly eradicating of extreme poverty, the major decrease in poverty (with the claim that the two lowest social classes have fallen from 55% to 25% of the population since 2003), macroeconomic stability, expansion of infrastructure, job creation (Brazil’s unemployment rate is low and has remained low), the expansion of education, the success of programs such as Bolsa Família and Brasil sem Miséria. It also proposed much of the same – vague commitments to improving productivity, reducing bureaucracy, boosting entrepreneurship, transitioning to a knowledge economy, environmental protection, expanding early childhood education, investing in the quality of education (overall, the government is committed to investing 10% of the GDP in education by 2024), expanding youth job opportunities, expanding access to medical specialists and a vague promise for political reform including a plebiscite and more ‘popular participation’. Maintaining and expanding popular social programs such as Bolsa Família were front and centre in Dilma’s campaign

On economic issues, Dilma reiterated the importance of macroeconomic stability and low inflation with lower interest rates and flexible exchange rates – in other words, the same policy, although with a different finance minister since Guido Mantega’s departure was confirmed. She defended state intervention in the economy, the use of public-private partnerships to build infrastructure and some protectionist measures. Dilma’s economic record has been the focus of most of the criticism in the last four years, and she has by and large lost the support of investors and the markets – because of what they judge to be inefficient policies against inflation, unfriendliness towards the private sector, excessive state intervention in the economy and too much meddling in the Central Bank’s business.

Aécio Neves was the candidate of the PSDB. Aécio is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, the veteran moderate opposition politician during the military regime who gained a somewhat mythical status as the result of his election to the presidency in 1985 and untimely, tragic death before he could take office. Aécio went on to serve four terms as a federal deputy from Minas Gerais, from 1987 to 2003, and was President of the Chamber of Deputies from February 2001 to December 2002. As President of the Chamber, Aécio pushed an ‘ethics package’ to increase transparency in Congress and ended congressional immunity for ordinary crimes.

In 2002, Aécio was elected governor of Minas Gerais, an office which his grandfather Tancredo had held from 1983 to 1984. The state had major fiscal and economic problems in 2002, with debts and deficits breaking the limits set by the fiscal responsibility law, although Aécio’s supporters may have a tendency to overstate the ‘catastrophic’ nature of the state’s situation (although Aécio’s predecessor as governor, Itamar Franco, had defaulted on the state debt upon taking office in 1999 and inadvertently triggered a devaluation of the real). Regardless, upon his election, Aécio introduced ‘management shock’ (choque de gestão) with the aim of reducing the state’s debt and deficit, modernize and reorganize the state apparatus and implement new management techniques – he reduced public spending, increased taxes, improved tax collection, cut the number of state ministries, capped public sector pay, left over 3000 patronage jobs unfilled, adopted new models of public-private partnerships and pushed for performance targets in the public sector. He also oversaw the construction of a Brasília-like government complex centralizing all government offices in Belo Horizonte. Taken as a whole, Aécio’s reforms in MG bear a lot of similarities to New Public Management (NPM) public sector reforms introduced in some countries since the 1980s. As a result of Aécio’s reforms, the state found R$ 1 billion in savings, the government cut its own expenditures, inefficient public servants were dismissed, bonuses were cut, the government introduced transparent public tenders for government procurement, the governor took a pay cut himself and the state paid off its debt in 2005 (after 14 years in debt). The long-term effectiveness of Aécio’s early reforms has been questioned by some analysts. His government also improved education, created a program to fight rural poverty and paved roads with financing from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Aécio was one of the most popular governors in Brazil – his campaign ads this year boasted a ‘92% approval’ when leaving office. In 2006, Aécio was reelected in a landslide, winning 77% of the vote against a PT candidate. Aécio and the local PSDB branches in MG closed their eyes (or covertly backed) to ‘Lula-Aécio’ campaigns (calling on voters to vote for Lula for president, over PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin, and Aécio for governor) – this strong vote-splitting badly hurt Alckmin, although Aécio cared little since he had clear presidential ambitions himself. Aécio tried out for the PSDB’s nomination in 2010, but waiting around too much and focusing on the election of his vice-governor Antônio Anastasia as his successor as governor meant that he ultimately was pushed aside by José Serra. He ran for Senate instead, and although he campaigned alongside Serra he didn’t exert himself too much for him (again, because Aécio was thinking of his presidential ambitions for 2014). As far as he was concerned, 2010 was another successful election – he was elected to the Senate with over 7.5 million votes in MG, and his replacement as governor, Antônio Anastasia, was elected to a full term as governor with a wide majority in the first round.

Aécio’s tenure in the Senate, however, has not been very memorable. In April 2011, he was pulled over by police and refused to take a breathalyzer test while his drivers’ license was seized for being expired. However, Aécio did obviously emerge as a leading opposition voice in the Senate. With Serra’s defeat in the runoff ballot, Aécio immediately became the favourite for the PSDB candidacy in 2014 – however, Serra retained presidential ambitions (despite two defeats) and tried to gather enough support in PSDB ranks to run. In November 2013, Aécio was nominated as the PSDB’s candidate after Serra failed to gather enough support. It’s interesting to note that Aécio was the first PSDB presidential candidate who wasn’t from São Paulo – all six PSDB candidates since 1989 have been from São Paulo.

Aécio’s running-mate was Senator Aloysio Nunes (PSDB-SP), a former federal deputy and justice minister under FHC. Interestingly, Aloysio Nunes was a Communist in his youth and participated in the armed struggle against the military regime (he partook in the raid of a train) before he went into exile in France. With the 1979 amnesty, he returned to Brazil and joined the PMDB before joining the PSDB in 1997. In 2010, he was elected to the Senate from São Paulo with the most votes of any candidate in the country (11.1 million votes).

Aécio’s coalition, Muda Brasil, was supported by the PSDB and the DEM, as well as a whole slew of smaller parties. These were the venal PTB; the new Solidarity (Solidariedade, SD), a party founded by ex-PDT federal deputy and trade union leader (Força Sindical) Paulo Pereira da Silva (Paulinho da Força); the National Mobilization Party (Partido da Mobilização Nacional, PMN), an originally left-wing party which has become an ideology-free venal beast; the new National Ecological Party (Partido Ecológico Nacional, PEN); the tiny National Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Nacional, PTN); the Christian Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Cristão, PTC), a small right-wing party which was originally Collor’s party in 1989 (as the PRN); and the tiny Labour Party of Brazil (Partido Trabalhista do Brasil, PTdoB), which shouldn’t be confused with the PTB (lol Brazilian party names!). In 2010, the PTC and PTN had supported Dilma. The PTB and PTdoB had backed Serra. It’s worth reiterating, at this point, that national-level coalitions have little implications on state-level coalitions: while the PSDB/DEM will rarely ally with the PT (or PCdoB) at any level, the PMDB may ally with the right against the PT or run independently (with smaller allies) against the PT, many small parties will support different parties in different states (eg: parties like SD which backed Aécio backed the PT in some states, the PSD which backed Dilma backed the PSDB/DEM in some states). Confused? That’s fine, everybody is!

Aécio’s platform was similar to traditional tucano (PSDB – the party’s symbol is a toucan) discourse – vaguely centre-right liberal reformism, with a fondness for ideas like ‘efficiency’, ‘simplicity’, ‘innovation’, ‘transparency’ and decentralization. It’s hardly a hard-right neoliberal platform which wants to slash the welfare states (as the PT likes to paint the PSDB as), although the PSDB does share some neoliberal ideas like privatization, NPM theories of public administration and free market economics. The PSDB, however, has also supported social benefits and state spending to alleviate poverty (and supports popular PT programs like Bolsa Família). Nevertheless, the PSDB’s support for privatization (a highly controversial idea in Brazil) and tendency to cut state spending in order to balance the books is often used against the party by its critics on the left and the PT. In recent years, the PSDB has adopted tougher rhetoric on law and order/security issues – this year, Governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB-SP) ran a strong campaign emphasizing law and order themes. Aécio’s 2014 manifesto attacked government policies, stagflation, Dilma’s economic interventionism, ‘out of control’ public spending, corruption and creative accounting.

Aécio’s key themes were decentralization – devolving more autonomy and resources to state and local governments to provide quality public services (contrasted with the alleged concentration of money and power with the federal government under the PT) while sharing a common vision, and shared delivery of services between levels of government; confidence – for citizens, investors, employers and workers (in effect, creating a stable climate of confidence in laws and regulations for business); transparency – fighting corruption and other shady government practices; simplicity – reducing bureaucracy and reforming public administration; innovation – improving global economic competitiveness by investing in R&D; efficiency – a ‘management shock’ to ensure more efficient management of public resources; popular participation – fluff. In concrete terms, the campaign’s main promises were a reform of public services (particularly education, healthcare, public safety and transit), a reform of public safety (eradicating impunity and strengthening security forces), a political reform, a tax reform (to simplify the tax system and reduce the custo Brasil) and a reform (upgrade) of infrastructure (a coordinated investment plan for infrastructure with private participation).

Aécio promised a more liberal economic policy than Dilma – reducing inflation to 4.5%, then reducing the Central Bank’s target to 3% with a 1.5% tolerance range, limiting increase in public spending to GDP growth, increasing investments from 16% to 24% of GDP, closer integration of the Brazilian economy with the global economy (by reducing export taxes, reducing costs, cutting bureaucratic hurdles, tariff reform, supporting free trade agreements and supporting Brazilian businesses internationally), a tax reform (simplifying the tax system and reducing the tax burden in the long run), removing sectoral protections for industry and more competition in the economy (fighting monopolies and cartels). Aécio called for more investments in infrastructure, but in partnership with the private sector through PPPs. To address the pension/social security deficit, Aécio proposed to reduce the size of the informal sector in the economy so there can be more contributors to social security; he also spoke in favour of combating welfare fraud and increasing the specialization of labour to reduce turnover. In the public sector, the PSDB candidate’s manifesto preached in favour of adopting NPM reforms similar to those he adopted as governor of MG. Finally, Aécio Neves promised ‘de-bureaucratization’ – reducing red tape, making it easier to open and run a business, reducing redundancies and time lost to bureaucratic hassles, greater dialogue with the public and civil society and more use of technology.

The tucano candidate promised to retain the Bolsa Família – in fact, as senator, he proposed to upgrade it to a state policy by integrating it in the law on social assistance (guaranteeing it as a permanent right for vulnerable citizens); his manifesto also spoke of the need to adopt a multidimensional view of poverty and proposed to classify low-income families registered in the state’s database (the Cadastro Único) according to six risk levels to attend better to the needs of vulnerable families. He reiterated his promise to retain other social policies, including affirmative action.

On the issue of education, Aécio’s manifesto promised full-day schooling, private school scholarships for poor students, a bonus for students to finish high school to fight high drop out rates, incentives for high school dropouts to return to school (including paying them the minimum wage, more choice for students in secondary schools and strategically-focused professional education/training in high-demand sectors with good employment prospects. In health care, he promised to increase spending to 10% of the overall budget to build 500 new clinics and improve the government’s Mais Médicos programs. His promises on environmental issues were largely generic stuff – transition to a low carbon economy, sustainable development in public policies, conservation of biodiversity, reducing deforestation, fighting illegal logging although with an added focus on the issue of water security.

Aécio’s plan for political reform promised an end to consecutive reelection of the President, governors and mayor (Dilma also supported it), five-year terms, a mixed voting system, reintroducing the ‘threshold’ laws limiting small parties’ access to congressional representation, funding and TV airtime. While Dilma proposed a plebiscite on political reform, Aécio said that reform should come from Congress, which could decide whether or not to hold a plebiscite.

Eduardo Campos announced his candidacy to the presidency for the PSB in October 2013. At the same time, after she failed to register her new political party, Marina Silva announced that she would join the PSB, having found an agreement with the party. In November 2013, Campos confirmed that he would be the PSB-led coalition’s presidential candidate, putting an end to speculation that Marina could be the party’s candidate. In April 2014, Marina Silva was confirmed as Eduardo Campos’ running-mate.

Although Eduardo Campos left office with sky-high approval ratings in Pernambuco and most saw him as a competent and ambitious politician, he failed to take off in the polls – he polled only 8% to 11% in May and June 2014, a distant third behind Dilma (in the driver’s seat with 38-40%) and Aécio (with mediocre numbers between 19% and 24%). However, Campos was only using his 2014 candidacy as a springboard for a much stronger run in 2018.

On August 13, the Cessna Citation 560 XLS+ carrying Eduardo Campos and six other people crashed due to poor weather conditions as it was attempting to land in Santos (SP). All 7 passengers on board died in the crash. The accident and Campos’ tragic death sent shockwaves through the country and shook up the election. The PSB-led coalition had ten days to choose a new candidate and, as was widely expected, it selected Marina Silva to replace Eduardo Campos. She chose five-term federal deputy and Campos loyalist Beto Albuquerque (PSB-RS) as her running-mate.

The PSB-led coalition included, besides the PSB, the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Popular Socialista, PPS); originally the ‘eurocommunist’ reformist dissident group of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) led by Roberto Freire which had been in the centre-right opposition bloc since 2003; the Social Liberal Party (Partido Social Liberal, PSL), a very small social liberal centre-right party; the Humanist Party of Solidarity (Partido Humanista da Solidariedade, PHS), a tiny Christian democratic party; the Free Homeland Party (Partido Pátria Livre, PPL), a party founded in 2011 from remnants of the old far-left armed guerrilla Revolutionary Movement 8th of October (MR8) and the Progressive Republican Party (Partido Republicano Progressista, PPR), a tiny irrelevance.

Marina Silva was born in 1958 in the remote Amazonian state of Acre, the daughter of impoverished rubber tappers. She grew up in poverty, lost her mother at 15, suffered from several health problems in her youth and began working on rubber plantations at the age of 10. She grew up in the tradition of legendary Acrean rubber tapper Chico Mendes, a union leader who was one of the founders of the CUT and PT in Acre. Chico Mendes and rubber tappers in Acre had a strong environmental conscience, aware of the threat posed to their livelihoods by deforestation. In the footsteps of her political mentor Chico Mendes, Marina joined the PT in 1986 and was an unsuccessful PT candidate for Congress alongside Mendes in 1986. She was elected as municipal councillor in Rio Branco, the state capital, in 1988 and moved up to state deputy in Acre in 1990. In 1994, Marina was elected to the Senate from Acre and was reelected to a second term in 2002. As noted above, Marina joined Lula’s cabinet in January 2003 as his Minister of the Environment, an office she held until May 2008, when she resigned to protest the government’s environmental policies. In 2009, she left the PT to join the Greens and ran as their presidential candidate in 2010. In 2011, she left the PV. Marina converted to evangelical Christianity (Assembly of God) in 1997. As a result of her evangelical Protestant beliefs, Marina has socially conservative views on hot-button cultural issues: in 2010, she opposed embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and the decriminalization of abortion.

Marina surged in the aftermath of her nomination as Campos’ replacement. She breezed past Aécio and was in a statistical tie for first with Dilma by the end of August and she took a solid lead over the incumbent in a runoff scenario. As Aécio’s bland and mediocre campaign floundered in August and early-to-mid September, Marina became Dilma’s main rival and she posed a very serious threat to the President’s reelection hopes. Aécio’s campaign looked like it was effectively throwing in the towel, focusing on shoring up the PSDB in state-level races while hoping that Aécio’s votes which would flow to Marina in the runoff would give the PSDB a strong position to negotiate a deal with her.

Marina’s platform had a heavy focus on political reform – she promised a ‘high-intensity democracy’, which seems to be a cool sophisticated way of saying a less corrupt, more ‘participative’ democracy. She too promised to abolish reelection, single five-year terms, aligned local and general electoral calendars (local elections are currently held 2 years after the general federal/state elections), electoral reform (quite vague on the preferred system), more direct democracy with more referendums/plebiscites and the chance for more popular initiatives, transparent campaign finance laws and a reform of TV airtime regulations. The coalition also proposed to ‘rationalize’ the presence of the public sector, reducing costs but increasing the quality of services, reduced expenditure with the use of PPPs, bringing in NPM-style reforms to the public sector (goals, indicators, performance evaluation, accountability and efficiency), channels for interaction between the public sector and citizens and sustainable/eco-friendly practices in public administration. Like Aécio, she called on a ‘new federalism’, by transferring more tax revenues to the states and municipalities and creating new spaces for dialogue and intergovernmental cooperation.

Marina’s platform on economic issues was fairly right-leaning – criticizing the high tax burden, advocating less government intervention, creating conditions for more private investment (and reducing government subsidies granted through the BNDES), a friendlier business climate (by ending discretionary government policies), calls for greater economic competitiveness on global markets, promises for tax reform (not raising taxes, cutting taxes on investments, more progressive taxation and simplifying tax laws) and calls for greater private provision of credit. However, it also promised to reduce inequality (to a Gini index value of 0.5 in 2018, from 0.53 today) by maintaining and expanding current social programs such as Bolsa Família, criticized Dilma for the drastic decrease in the pace of agrarian reform, promised to distribute land to 85,000 families waiting for land, promised to integrate those living from subsistence agriculture on minifúndios into the agricultural economy and called for broader agricultural insurance to protect against market risks. Marina, like Aécio, called for more investments in infrastructure and a major expansion of infrastructure through PPPs, concessions and direct private investment.

The platform had a green tint, with a major focus on energy policy, where Marina called for more renewable energies in the electricity mix (notably solar power), carbon pricing in the energy sector, better management of supply and demand to avoid rationing, less consumption of fossil fuels and liberalization of the energy market. On wider environmental issues, the coalition’s platform urged immediate action against deforestation, fulfilling international commitments, expanding the area of planted forests by 40%, forcing public agencies to meet GHG emissions targets, providing incentives for low-carbon agriculture and the creation of a ‘Brazilian Market for Emissions Reduction’. Environmental issues, however, were not a key focus of her campaign and many critics found her environmental policies to be uninspiring.

On the issue of education, Marina promised to prioritize comprehensive education in primary schools (for more on this Brazilian concept, see this link in Portuguese), provide universal early childhood education for children ages 4-5, expand access to post-secondary education, accelerate plans to devote 10% of GDP to education, improve teachers’ conditions and pay (one half in relation to the growth of federal budget expenditures for education and the second half tied to teacher performance) and increase R&D spending.

On social policy issues, Marina promised to maintain and expand the Bolsa Família to another 10 million families, adopt a multidimensional view of poverty, gradually increase healthcare spending to 10% of federal revenues, build 100 new hospitals and to increase the number of hospital beds including through contracts with private providers.

Urban policy was the fifth main ‘axis’ of her campaign. She promised to expand the government’s Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program by building 4 million houses by 2018, push states and municipalities to provide infrastructure to these new neighborhoods, implement policies guaranteeing universal access to sanitation (40 million lack access to treated water, 119 million live without a sewage network), improve waste collection, implement a program (with all levels of government) to build 1,000km of LRT and dedicated bus lanes by 2018 in cities with over 200k inhabitants, create a federal program to implement free transit for students (‘free pass’) and push for non-motorized transportation. On security issues, Marina proposed the implementation of a National Plan to Reduce Homicides and a Pact for Life (modeled on the successful anti-crime programs in Pernambuco), strengthen the federal police, increase spending on public safety and stronger coordination of law enforcement efforts.

The final axis of Marina Silva’s platform was human rights, detailing her vision for the state’s relationships to human rights groups, youth, women, LGBT communities, disabled people, traditional communities, minorities, indigenous peoples, quilombolas, blacks (Afro-Brazilians), new social movements and trade unions. In concrete terms, the manifesto talked about promoting regional integration programs geared towards the youth, adoption of the ‘free pass’ (see above), adopting mechanisms to tackle discrimination against women in the labour market (formalization of women’s work and enhanced oversight of the Ministry of Labour to guarantee equal pay for equal work), expanding the range of services offered to women (such as efforts to expand women entrepreneurship), sex-ed in schools, concerted actions to protect women from violence, the recognition of quilombos and indigenous land rights and less state intervention in the arbitration of labour disputes.

On LGBT issues, Marina’s manifesto became the heart of a firestorm early in her campaign. The initial version of the platform, released on August 29, included explicit support for same-sex marriage and for PL 122 (pending legislation to criminalize homophobia and ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity); the next day, a ‘revised’ version released by the campaign removed any mention of support for same-sex marriage (instead ‘guaranteeing the rights arising from civil unions’ – which already exist) and PL 122, and taming down the language on gay adoption rights (from ‘remove the barriers to the adoption of children by homosexual couples’ to ‘giving equal treatment to all adoptive couples’). The manifesto retained calls to tackle homophobia and to back congressional approval of a gender identity bill backed by openly gay federal deputy and LGBT rights activist Jean Wyllys (PSOL-RJ). Marina’s campaign claimed that the initial draft was a mistake, because it didn’t reflect the ‘mediation between the ideas of the various persons which contributed to its formulation’ (read: it didn’t reflect Marina’s beliefs) – it thus deflected accusations of flip-flopping by claiming that Marina didn’t change her mind because she never endorsed gay marriage. LGBT groups were livid at the campaign’s stance. Marina likely backtracked on LGBT rights because of the strong opposition of evangelical pastor/televangelist Silas Malafaia, who is a strong opponent of gay marriage and PL 122, as well as the hostility of the congressional ‘evangelical bench’ – evangelicals, obviously, being a key element of Marina’s personal electoral clientele. Dilma was the only major candidate who support PL 122.

Luciana Genro was the candidate of the radical left PSOL. Luciana Genro is the 43-year old daughter of Tarso Genro (PT-RS), a former mayor of Porto Alegre and governor of Rio Grande do Sul. Originally a member of the PT like her father, she was elected to the state legislature under the petista flag in 1994 and 1998 and then to the Chamber in 2002. Already a member of the PT’s radical/left-wing for quite some time, Luciana Genro quickly became increasingly unhappy with the moderate direction of the Lula government and she was expelled from the PT along with Heloísa Helena and other after rebelling against the party line on a pension reform vote. She was a founding member of the PSOL in 2005 and was reelected to the Chamber of Deputies from Rio Grande do Sul in 2006. In the Chamber, Luciana pushed for taxes on banks and the implementation of a wealth tax, created on paper by the 1988 Constitution but never created by legislators. She was defeated in 2010, largely because of the ridiculous intricacies of the electoral system.

Luciana ran on a very left-wing platform. On economic issues, the PSOL called for lower interest rates, an audit of the debt (against primary surpluses), capital flow controls, tax reform (wealth tax, closing tax loopholes and concessions for businesses), repeal of the fiscal responsibility law (replacing it with a social investment law forcing governments to invest in public services), reindustrialization, low-interest loans and revision of privatizations. On social services, Luciana promised increased public spending on healthcare and education, no privatization in healthcare, regulation of private insurance, patent law reform, free pharmacare, expansion of public education, a massive increase in the minimum wage, introduction of maximum salaries, 40-hour workweek, urban reform (fighting real estate speculation and forced evictions, expropriation of idle land and long-term vacant properties for public housing, reducing costs of rent, guaranteeing public transit as a right, increased spending on transit, expansion of public transit (including non-motorized alternatives) and increased pensions. She also called for the creation of a public broadcaster, a right to internet access, reducing monopolies in the media and the cancellation of TV/radio licenses granted to elected officials. On environmental issues, she supported the repeal of all decrees allowing the use of pesticides, suspending the release of GMOs, a zero deforestation goal, universal access to sanitation, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, renewable energies (including solar power), state control over generation and distribution of electricity and reducing energy waste. The platform also supported agrarian reform.

The PSOL took much more socially liberal/libertarian stances than any of the three major parties. Luciana’s platform supported same-sex marriage, criminalization of homophobia, PSOL deputy Jean Wyllys’ gender identity bill, anti-homophobia education (dropped by Dilma’s government due to evangelical opposition), legalization of abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (currently banned except in the cases of rape, maternal life or fetuses with anencephaly) covered by the SUS, pay equity, state secularism, decriminalization of marijuana, demilitarization of the police, tackling police brutality, abolishing all remaining forms of torture, a revision of penitentiary policy and full commitment to human rights (including, as a key aspect, upholding the right to strike and freedom of assembly).

On the issue of political reform, Luciana called for a constituent assembly, public campaign financing, the possibility of recall, open-list (but pre-ordered list) proportional representation to strengthen ideological parties and the introduction of direct democracy mechanisms (referendum, plebiscite, popular initiative, participatory budget-making).

Eduardo Jorge was the candidate of the Green Party (PV). Jorge was a four-term PT federal deputy between 1987 and 2003, who joined the PV in 2003. Sustainable development, clean energy, protection of the Amazon and Atlantic littoral forest, zero deforestation, greatly developing solar energy, congestion pricing in cities and energy efficiency were some of the Greens’ key priorities. Political reform also ranked high on their agenda – calling for a unicameral legislature with fewer seats, direct democracy, MMP, voluntary voting, a new plebiscite on parliamentarianism (Brazil voted in favour of a presidential republic in 1993), a reduction in the number of ministries to 14, less government agencies/commissions and splitting government revenues equally between all three levels of government. Eduardo Jorge supported the current macroeconomic framework (primary surplus, inflation targeting, floating exchange rate and fiscal responsibility) and further called for tax simplification (and no tax increases), lower interest rates, pension reform (with a single system for both public and private employees – with pension caps and recognizing the need to explore the possibility of more contributions and a higher retirement age) and more attention to healthcare and education. Despite this fairly liberal economic policy, it also supported maintaining current social programs and reducing working time (40hrs/week). Like Luciana (PSOL), Eduardo Jorge defended a very socially liberal agenda – human rights, indigenous rights, gay marriage/adoption, Afro-Brazilian rights, demilitarization of the police, animal rights/vegetarianism, decriminalization of marijuana, a less repressive criminal policy (especially on the drug war issues) and pacifism.

Pastor Everaldo, an evangelical (Assemblies of God) pastor from Rio de Janeiro, was the candidate of the small right-wing Christian Social Party (PSC). Everaldo ran on a right-wing platform promoting family values, free market economics, less bureaucracy and a stronger national defense. He attracted the most attention (and controversy) because of his very vocal socially conservative positions – he is loathed by feminists and LGBT activists because he is strongly pro-life, anti-gay marriage and anti-drug legalization. That being said, Everaldo was sentenced in first instance (in 2012) to pay damages to his ex-wife for moral and material damage and has also been accused by his ex-wife of physical assault and death threats (which he claimed was in self-defense).

Levy Fidelix was the candidate, as in 2010, of the tiny right-wing Brazilian Labour Renewal Party (Partido Renovador Trabalhista Brasileiro, PRTB), which he founded in 1992 (as the PTRB). Something of a perennial candidate, Levy Fidelix has run for some kind of office in every election since 1996 (including local elections) and ran for President in 2010, where he won 0.06%. In all his candidacies, this one included, he is often known for his proposals for a monorail/bullet train between Campinas (SP) and Rio and monorails in major cities. In 2014, he also called for financial/tax reform, the creation of R$510 family wage to replace social programs and the construction of a dozen planned cities in the Centre-West. However, this year, Levy Fidelix grabbed attention and sparked a major controversy for his homophobic statements during a televised debate. Asked by Luciana Genro (PSOL) why ‘family value’ politicians refused to defend same-sex couple families, Levy Fidelix went off on an homophobic rant. He argued that reproduction doesn’t happen through the excretory system (a reference to anal sex), associated homosexuality and pedophilia, claimed that homosexuality was contagious, considered homosexuals to be mentally ill, claimed that homosexuals needed psychological care and said that homosexuals were better kept away from ‘us’. The three main candidates later condemned his statements (but didn’t challenge him on them during the debate); the PSOL, PV and the government’s Secretariat for Human Rights filed charges against.

José Maria Eymael ran for President for the fourth time (previously in 1998, 2006 and 2010), under the banner of his small Christian Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata Cristão, PSDC), a right-wing party claiming inspiration from European Christian democracy. Eymael’s best result was 0.25% in 1998, and won only 0.06% (his lowest vote) in 2010. Eymael’s main claim to fame remains his popular and catchy 1985 campaign jingle Ey Ey Eymael, um democrata cristão (the popularity of which allowed him to be elected to the constituent assembly in 1986). His platform is usually generic Christian democratic in orientation, although more socially conservative than European Christian democracy.

Finally, there were three small far-left candidates. There was José ‘Zé’ Maria de Almeida‘s fourth candidacy for the Trotskyst United Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado, PSTU), a party born in the 1990s from the Trot faction of the PT. Zé Maria supported nationalization of the financial sector, privatized companies and natural resources; higher taxes on the rich; expropriation and nationalization of the banks; decriminalization of drugs and expropriation of latifúndios. Mauro Iasi, a feminist university professor, ran for the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) – which is currently a very small, hard-left Marxist-Leninist party. He supported mass nationalizations (energy, mines, communications, natural resources, transport etc.), higher taxes on the rich, nationalization of public transit to make it free, legalization of abortion, ‘radical direct democracy’, ‘popular education’, agrarian reform and defaulting on the public debt. Rui Costa Pimenta ran for a fourth time as the candidate of the Workers’ Cause Party (Partido da Causa Operária, PCO), another Trot party. He supported similar far-left policies including huge minimum wage increases, nationalizations, high taxes on the rich, land expropriations, legalization of abortion plus the lovely idea of replacing the police/military by ‘popular militias’ (yeah, that would work out well!).

National Results – October 6, 2014

Marina Silva’s wave peaked at the end of August, when he was tied with Dilma in a first round poll, 34% to 34%, with Aécio way back at 15%. Her first round support tapered off somewhat in early and mid-September, allowing Dilma to retake a narrow first round lead, but as Aécio failed to bridge the gap with Marina, she remained the favourite to face Dilma in the runoff. She continued to hold a narrow lead over Dilma until September 20 or so, when she lost the lead in the runoff.

Marina faced unrelenting and harsh attacks from both of her opponents, but particularly Dilma, who attacked her on policy issues but also by using fear tactics claiming (falsely) that Marina would destroy social programs and that she would hand power to bankers and international financial organizations (the unpopular IMF) by guaranteeing the Central Bank’s autonomy. Although Marina’s economic stances were close to those of the PSDB, her stances on other issues were close to that of the PT. She could have siphoned off left-wing voters by playing on her more left-wing environmental and indigenous rights stances, but she chose to focus exclusively on anti-PT voters and therefore mostly emphasized her more right-wing economic views. This made Dilma’s somewhat dishonest attacks alleging that Marina was a conservative more effective.

Dilma also highlighted Marina’s weak partisan base of support, and compared her to former Presidents Jânio Quadros (1961) and Fernando Collor (1990-1992). Quadros was a bizarre, eccentric and wacky populist politician who enjoyed a whirlwind rise to power in the 1950s (from local councillor to President within 10 years); he was elected to the presidency on a moralistic, populist anti-corruption platform in 1960 with the right’s (opportunistic) support but quickly turned out to be quite different to what they had hoped for by embracing a non-aligned foreign policy and meeting Che Guevara. After an extremely bizarre 207 days in office, Jânio got in a drunken stupor and resigned suddenly (lo and behold, Jânio made a political comeback in 1985 by defeating FHC for mayor of São Paulo by claiming FHC was a pot-smoking atheist who would put weed in school lunches). Collor, like Jânio, lacked a substantial personal base of support (Collor’s party, the PRN, won only 40 seats in Congress in 1990) and his government relied on the support of right-wing parties in Congress (PFL, PDS, PTB, PL) who were not totally reliable (especially by the end). By comparing Marina to Jânio and Collor, Dilma warned voters that Marina would lack a strong base of support in Congress. Marina herself, after riding a wave of sympathy for Campos and popular connection to her life story, and after putting up a strong performances in TV interviews and debates, began to stumble and made amateur mistakes. Aécio also attacked her, notably over her inexperience and tried to wean right-wing voters away from her by reminding them that Marina had been in the PT for 25 years. Although Aécio and Marina had similar platforms, Aécio began to sell himself as a more experienced and tested leader who also had a stronger partisan base of support.

Marina having lost the momentum, her support in the polls collapsed in the final week of the campaign. In Ibope on September 20-22, she trailed Dilma by 9 in the first round (38-29, 19% Aécio); in Datafolha on September 25-26, she trailed Dilma by 13 (40-27, 18% Aécio); in Datafolha on September 29-30, she trailed by 15 in the first round and the gap with Aécio was cut down to only 5% (40-25-20), a poll on October 1-2 from the same pollster showed the gap with Aécio down to 3% (24-21). The last two polls from Ibope and Datafolha, released on October 3-4, showed that Aécio had taken back second place, and led Marina by 3% and 2% respectively in the first round. Dilma polled 40%, while Aécio polled 24%. In runoff polls, Marina lost her lead over Dilma beginning on September 25-26, and by the time of the first round, she was trailing Dilma by a consequential margin in an hypothetical runoff. As Brazilians headed to the polls on October 6, Marina’s impressive momentum had totally collapsed and it looked like the runoff would be an anticlimactic Dilma/Aécio runoff (with Dilma heavily favoured).

President

Turnout in the first round was 80.61%.

Dilma Rousseff (PT) 41.59%
Aécio Neves (PSDB) 33.55%
Marina Silva (PSB) 21.32%
Luciana Genro (PSOL) 1.55%
Pastor Everaldo (PSC) 0.75%
Eduardo Jorge (PV) 0.61%
Levy Fidelix (PRTB) 0.43%
José Maria de Almeida (PSTU) 0.09%
José Maria Eymael (PSDC) 0.06%
Mauro Iasi (PCB) 0.05%
Rui Costa Pimenta (PCO) 0.01%

Blank votes 5.8%
Invalid votes 3.84%

Brazil 2014 - r1

Chamber of Deputies

Compared to dissolution

PT 70 seats (-17)
PMDB 66 seats (-5)
PSDB 54 seats (+9)
PSD 37 seats (-8)
PP 36 seats (-4)
PR 34 seats (+3)
PSB 34 seats (+9)
PTB 25 seats (-7)
DEM 22 seats (-6)
PRB 21 seats (+11)
PDT 19 seats (+1)
SD 15 seats (-6)
PSC 12 seats (nc)
PROS 11 seats (-9)
PCdoB 10 seats (-5)
PPS 10 seats (+4)
PV 8 seats (nc)
PHS 5 seats (+5)
PSOL 5 seats (+2)
PTN 4 seats (+4)
PMN 3 seats (nc)
PRP 3 seats (+1)
PEN 2 seats (+1)
PSDC 2 seats (+2)
PTC 2 seats (+2)
PRTB 1 seat (+1)
PSL 1 seat (+1)
PTdoB 1 seat (-2)
Source: G1 Eleições 2014

Senate

Compared to dissolution

PMDB 18 seats (-1) – 5 elected
PT 12 seats (-1) – 2 elected
PSDB 10 seats (-2) – 4 elected
PSB 6 seats (+3) – 3 elected
PDT 6 seats (+2) – 4 elected
PP 5 seats (nc) – 1 elected
DEM 5 seats (+1) – 3 elected
PSD 4 seats (+2) – 2 elected
PR 4 seats (nc) – 1 elected
PTB 3 seats (-3) – 2 elected
PCdoB 1 seat (-1) – 0 elected
PSOL 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PPS 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PRB 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PV 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PSC 1 seat (nc)- 0 elected
PROS 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
SD 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
Source: UOL Eleições

Despite the impression that the first round would be quite anticlimactic after the crazy ups-and-downs of the campaign – particularly Marina’s surge and subsequent collapse, and Aécio’s campaign never getting off the ground – the first round of the presidential election reserved its share of surprises. As expected, Dilma and Aécio qualified for the runoff, while Marina Silva ended a mediocre third. However, the results of the two main candidates were unexpected: Dilma, at 41.6%, was significantly weaker than expected (excluding the undecideds, polling suggested that Dilma would win about 45-47%); Aécio, with 33.6%, was extremely strong compared to his polling numbers in the last polls let alone his polling numbers a mere week or two before the election.

Aécio’s performance was quite remarkable. He overperformed his final polling numbers (from October 4) by nearly 10%, and gained about 15% compared to where he stood a week before the election (at 20% and in third). 10 to 15 days before the first round, Aécio was still considered dead in the water.

Marina Silva, with 21.3%, placed a mediocre and disappointing third – although it was about where the last polls, from October 3-4, had pegged her. Ultimately, Marina was the victim of both her own poor campaign and virulent attacks from both her opponents, but particularly Dilma. Dilma’s brazenly negative campaign against Marina succeeded in substantially increasing Marina’s ‘rejection numbers’ (in Brazilian polls, the number of people who ‘reject’ – ie would never vote for – a candidate) from about 10% to 20%, while the government’s positive ratings improved from about 34% to 39%. However, from the results of the first round, it appears that Marina’s lost voters flowed en masse to Aécio rather than Dilma – something which, naturally, makes sense given that Marina’s surge was built by anti-PT/anti-Dilma voters who were hesitating between which candidate to support. Marina, when she looked to be the strongest (and only) alternative to Dilma/the PT, right-wing/anti-Dilma voters flocked to her; however, she failed to lock them down by convincing them why she’d make a better President than Aécio, so when she started losing her momentum, they defected to Aécio.

Marina was also hurt by differences in candidates’ TV airtime in the first round: because Dilma’s coalition had the support of large parties such as the PT, PMDB, PSD, PP and PR, she had 11:24 minutes of free airtime in the first round campaign, compared to 4:35 minutes for Aécio and only 2:03 minutes for Marina. Dilma used her airtime advantage to attack Marina.

That the presidential races in the last 20 years have all opposed a candidate from the PT representing ‘the left’ and one from the PSDB representing ‘the right’ (whether they like it or not) gives a superficial appearance of stability in Brazilian political choices at the top level. In reality, as this election showed, Brazilian voters at the presidential level are just as elastic and fickle as they are at the congressional, state and local levels.

Dilma, with 41.6%, had a fairly mediocre result in the first round. Dilma, as the incumbent with a mixed record, was naturally the most polarizing candidate in this race – polls regularly showed her to have a strong, resilient base of support in the 40% range, but her ‘rejection’ numbers were nearly as strong in the 35-40% range, meaning that over 40% of voters would never vote for her while another 40% were certain to vote for her. Her underperformance in the first round hit her campaign badly, as Aécio came out of the first round with a huge boost in momentum because of his strong numbers.

Indeed, as first round numbers flowed in, it became clear that Dilma would face a much closer and tougher runoff battle than was widely expected, as a result of Aécio’s surprisingly strong showing. With such high rejection numbers and the strength of the anti-PT strategic voters bloc, she was seriously vulnerable to Aécio. In 2010, Marina Silva’s voters had broken by a significant, although not huge, margin for José Serra (the PSDB candidate); in 2014, it was expected that they would break heavily for Aécio, and unlike in 2010, it was widely assumed after the first round that Marina would officially endorse Aécio.

Luciana Genro, the PSOL candidate, did fairly well with 1.6% of the vote – up from 0.87% in 2010. The main winner among the smaller candidates, however, was Levy Fidelix – he won 0.43% and 446,878 votes, up significantly from 0.06% and 57,960 votes in 2010. This strong result, of course, followed the national and international publicity he got for his crazy homophobic rant on the debate (‘reproduction can’t happen through the anus’).

Marina endorsed Aécio Neves on October 12. Eduardo Jorge (PV), Pastor Everaldo (PSC) and Levy Fidelix (PRTB) also endorsed Aécio. State-level candidates including gubernatorial favourites Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB-DF) and José Ivo Sartori (PMDB-RS) or senator-elect Romário (PSB-RJ) also endorsed Aécio during the runoff campaign. Aécio successfully managed, for once, to unite the PSDB behind his candidacy after the first round success – former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, somewhat placed aside by the PSDB in the last few cycles, regained a more prominent position in Aécio’s campaign; José Serra, elected to the Senate from São Paulo, actively supported Aécio; Governor Geraldo Alckmin, one of the main winners of the first round with his landslide reelection in São Paulo, also actively supported Aécio (likely because Aécio promised to abolish reelection). Brazilian football star Neymar also endorsed Aécio. In a much stranger twist, Aécio received unlikely ‘endorsements’ from American actress Lindsay Lohan and English supermodel Naomi Campbell – although Lindsay Lohan’s Twitter and Facebook posts were quickly taken down (it seems that the ‘endorsements’ were part of a paid advertising deal with a Brazilian company which does that sort of thing).

On the left, Luciana (PSOL) did not endorse anybody but called to vote against Aécio. Jean Wyllys (PSOL-RJ) endorsed Dilma and recorded an ad for her.

Datafolha and Ibope’s first polls after the first round, conducted on October 7-8 and 8-9 respectively, gave Aécio a narrow and inconclusive 2-point lead over Dilma; or a 51-49 lead in the valid votes. Their second wave of polls, conducted on October 12-14 (after Marina’s endorsement), showed him retaining a 2-point lead.

Dilma fired back with unrelenting attacks against Aécio, on a number of themes. Some attacks highlighted Aécio’s reputation as a patrician playboy – with allegations that he has used cocaine in the past (obviously, with Lindsay Lohan ‘endorsing’ him, that brought out a lot of easy jokes) and that he beat his model girlfriend Leticia Weber before they got married (a likely false rumour). Dilma ran an ad in which she claimed Aécio had “difficulties respecting women” – because he called Luciana and Dilma leviana, a word (not used often, it seems) which means imprudent or acting irresponsibly or hypocritically, and claimed that he had been disrespectful towards Dilma in a second round debate.

Other attacks concerned corruption and nepotism allegations from his time as governor of Minas Gerais – Dilma’s campaign accused him of building two airports in small towns where his relatives owned land and of employing dozens of his cousins and other relatives in state agencies and government jobs. Aécio failed to respond adequately to the airport and nepotism issues, arrogantly responding that the airports issue was a non-issue. There was also the case of the helicopter from Aécio’s company, Agropecuaria Limeira, filled with 450kg of cocaine which was seized by the Federal Police late last year (cue more jokes about LiLo). The helicopter belonged to state deputy Gustavo Perrella (SD-MG), the son of Senator Zezé Perrella (PDT-MG); both allies of Aécio Neves. Finally, other attacks concerned Aécio’s policy and political record as governor – accusations that Aécio’s government in MG cut healthcare and teacher’s pay (a rather egregious twisting of the truth), claims that Aécio voted against a minimum wage raise (he did, but only because he wanted a higher one than what was proposed) and the PT’s typical scare tactics that Aécio/the PSDB would abolish social programs. She also warned that Aécio’s ‘management shock’ would lead to job loses and cuts. Overall, Dilma’s rhetorically left-wing campaign was successful in driving home the idea that Aécio was the candidate of the elitist, pro-rich, pro-bankers conservative right. At times, Aécio did nothing to challenge this image – by attacking Dilma and even Lula’s record, he seemed to deny the very real progress made by the country and particularly by the poorest Brazilians in the past 12 years. His talk of ‘liberating’ the country from PT rule was very effective in playing to the base, which loathes the PT, but drove pro-PT and some swing voters away. Aécio’s close association with Armínio Fraga, the conservative President of the Central Bank under FHC who was set to become Aécio’s finance minister, also reinforced the image of Aécio as the candidate of an elitist conservative right.

Dilma’s negative campaign further alienated her existing critics, who accused her of dirty campaigning (a la Collor 1989) and of turning increasingly to the left and polarizing the country further in the process.

Datafolha polls on October 20 and 21 showed that Dilma had successfully reversed the situation, taking a 3 and 4-point lead respectively over Aécio (or a 52-48 lead in valid votes). Ibope, in the field from October 2o to 22, showed a 54-46 advantage for the President in valid votes (49-41); Datafolha on October 22-23 showed a 53-47 lead for Dilma.

On the other hand, the second round was also dominated with coverage of a developing political scandal at Petrobras, the oil giant. The anti-government Veja newsmagazine has relayed news and juicy details of the scandal, beginning with a March 2014 Federal Police operation (operação Lava Jato) which revealed a complex money laundering and tax evasion scheme. Shell companies belonging to Alberto Youssef  received millions in unexplained deposits from some of the biggest companies in the country (who have big contracts with the federal government), money which was later transferred to parties and politicians – the same politicians who had appointed the bureaucrats who hired the contractors paying the bribes. Youssef’s clients included three of the most important parties – the PT, the PMDB and the PP. Paulo Roberto Costa, Petrobras’ former director of procurement (2004-2002), was also at the heart of this scheme and was arrested in March 2014. In September 2014, he revealed to the Federal Police the names of politicians who had received bribes from the contracts: his names included the President of the Chamber of Deputies Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN), President of the Senate Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), Minister of Mines and Energy Edison Lobão (PMDB-MA), PP president Ciro Nogueira (PP-PI) and federal deputy Cândido Vaccarezza (PT-SP). He also claimed that the PT received 3% of the value of the contracts from the services, gas and energy and services directorates in Petrobras, as well as 2% from procurement contracts. The PP also received 1% of the value of contracts from the procurement directorate. In the last days before the second round, Veja hit the newsstands with an attention-grabbing headline claiming that Dilma and Lula knew everything (according to Youssef spilling the beans to the cops) and that Dilma used some of the illegal cash to finance her 2010 campaign. Dilma’s TV ads claimed that it was merely part of Veja‘s time-honoured tactics of dropping a ‘huge’ scandal on the PT when they were ahead in the final days (the magazine, in the past, had accused the PT of having received money from the FARC, among other things).

The last few juicy details from Youssef in the Petrobras scandal did tighten up the numbers in the last polls somewhat: Ibope showed Dilma leading 53-47 in the valid votes in their last poll (October 24-25), while Datafolha had her ahead 52-48 in a poll conducted on those same dates. Dilma was the favourite heading into the runoff, but the election promised to be tighter than any presidential runoff in the past.

The first round was also on a regional basis, as is the norm in Brazilian presidential elections since 2010. Dilma triumphed in the Nordeste, winning 59.4% in the region against 21.3% for Marina and only 17% for Aécio. The one exception to this triumph was Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos’ home state, where Marina narrowly defeated Dilma – 48.1% to 44.2%, leaving Aécio with only 5.9%. In the 2010 first round, Dilma had won 61.7% of the vote in Pernambuco. In the Northeastern states of Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Alagoas and Sergipe, Dilma actually improved on her first round numbers from 2010. In the states of Bahia (61.4% for Dilma) and Maranhão (69.6%), Dilma’s 2014 results on October 6 were only 1% or so below what she had won in 2010.

On the other hand, Aécio did very well in the traditionally right-leaning states of the South and Southeast – in those regions he won 48% and 36.5%, against 35.5% and 34.5% for Dilma respectively. Aécio recorded very strong results in São Paulo, where he won 44.2% in the first round against 25.8% for Dilma, who suffered an 11.5% loss from 2010 in SP. In Paraná and Santa Catarina, Dilma also suffered substantial loses from 2010 while Aécio improved significantly on José Serra’s 2010 first round numbers: +5.9% in Paraná and +7.1% in Santa Catarina, which was his best state in the first round (with 52.9%). Dilma narrowly won the key swing state/bellwether of Minas Gerais in the first round, 43.5% to 39.8% for Aécio, although Aécio’s home state advantage allowed him to improve on Serra’s 2010 performance by no less than 9% in MG. In Rio de Janeiro, a left-leaning state, Dilma won 35.6% against 31.1% for Marina and 26.9% for Aécio; compared to 2010, Dilma’s vote fell by 8.1% in RJ and the PSDB’s support increased by 4.4%.

In the Centre-West, Aécio won 40.9% against 33% for Dilma. She suffered major loses in Goiás (-10.1%) and the DF (-8.7%), and more limited loses in the right-leaning states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. In 2010, Marina had won the DF by over ten points (42% to 31.7%) against Dilma; this year, Aécio narrowly defeated Marina in the DF, 36.1% to 35.8%, with only 23% for Dilma. In the North, Dilma won 44.6% against 31.1% for Aécio. She actually improved on her 2010 results in Amapá, Pará, Roraima, Rondônia and Acre; but in Amazonas, where she won 65% in the first round in 2010, her support fell to 54.9%. Marina won her home state of Acre (which she had lost in 2010), with 42% against 29.1% for Aécio and 28% for Dilma; she mostly won through right-wing votes, given that the PSDB vote fell by 22.9% in Acre from 2010.

Marina’s vote, with the exception of Pernambuco and Acre, was somewhat evenly distributed across the regions and the states – she won 24.7% in the Southeast (with over 25% in SP, RJ and Espírito Santo), 23.2% in the Centre-West, 21.4% in the North, 21.3% in the Nordeste but only 12.8% in the South. Marina placed distant seconds ahead of Aécio in the Northeastern states of Bahia, Maranhão, Piauí and Alagoas – although in these cases, her results came at the expense of Aécio, given that Dilma improved on her 2010 showings in much of the region. Marina also performed well in the cities – 31.1% (and first place) in Rio, 23.9% in São Paulo, 25.5% in Salvador, 22.9% in Fortaleza, 63.3% in Recife and 29.2% in Manaus. In 2010, Marina’s urban support had been predominantly middle-class and well-educated, but in 2014, Marina did quite well in poorer areas. In Rio, for example, Marina was strongest in the poorer districts in the north of the city, while Aécio’s support was concentrated in the upscale seaside southern neighborhoods (upper-class areas such as Gávea, Leblon, Ipanema, Barra da Tijuca and Copacabana). Outside of Rio, Marina also did better in poorer working-class suburban municipalities such as Duque de Caxias (31.1%), Nova Iguaçu (32.9%), São João de Meriti (34.8%) and Nilópolis (35.7%) than in middle-class Niterói (29.1%). In suburban São Paulo, Marina also did better in the industrial ABC belt municipalities (traditional PT strongholds, very much eroded this year) – 27.5% in Diadema, 25.2% in São Bernardo do Campo, 34.2% in Guarulhos than she did in São Paulo itself (23.9%). In Brasília, Marina did better in poorer areas than in the more wealthy neighborhoods, where Aécio was strongest. Many of these voters were likely evangelical Christians, given that the poorer peripheries of Rio and São Paulo concentrate large numbers of evangelicals. Other regions where Marina did well – Espírito Santo, the Vale do Paraíba and the RJ littoral region – also have large evangelical populations.

Therefore, the real challenge for Aécio in the runoff was to conquer the vast majority of Marina’s first round vote – including parts of it which could be thought of as more favourable to the PT, because of their demographics.

The very pronounced regional polarization in this election – similar to 2006 and 2010, but even more polarized on regional lines – is due to a number of factors. Firstly, as Brazil’s democracy has matured, vote choice in presidential elections has become increasingly tied to demographic indicators such as income, education, human development, race (which is correlated with income and education) and religion (although this is more complicated). The Nordeste is the country’s poorest region – according to the Atlas do Desenvolvimento Humano do Brasil 2013, all states in the region had a Human Development Index (HDI) value below the national average (0.727), and the two poorest states in Brazil – Maranhão (0.639) and Alagoas (0.631) – are located in the region. The Nordeste’s poverty is the legacy of a history of social and racial inequality, a poorly diversified agriculture, weak industries, large latifúndios and a very unequal concentration of wealth; as well as regular droughts in the semi-arid inland regions (notably the sertão). Despite modernization and very real (and not unsuccessful) attempts at economic diversification, the Nordeste has remained the poorest region with the biggest wealth inequalities, low HDI values and the highest illiteracy rate (17% compared to 5% in the South/Southeast).

The South – Brazil’s whitest region (settled by European – Portuguese, German or Italian – settlers) – and the Southeast – home to the economic and political powerhouses of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais – are the two wealthiest regions in Brazil. The Centre-West, historically a poor and undeveloped inland region, has seen rapid development and rising prosperity in the recent decades, fueled notably by the agribusiness boom in Mato Grosso/Mato Grosso do Sul. The North, poor, sparsely populated and in parts still very remote, is similar to the Nordeste in that it is poor and largely non-white (brown); although the expansion of ‘pioneer front’ capitalist agriculture in Pará, Acre and Rondônia has changed matters somewhat.

In the past, until fairly recently, the Nordeste was politically dominated by an oligarchic paternalist elite, often of a very conservative orientation hostile to any kind of social reform which could endanger their hegemonic power. The old PFL (now the DEM) was, until 2002-2006, the dominant political force in the Nordeste, as a result of the party’s large network of conservative oligarchs who had previously backed the military regime but embraced democracy when the time came. The 2006 election saw a significant realignment of voting patterns in Brazil, with the PT/Lula gaining full dominance of the Nordeste while losing support in the wealthier South and Southeast. At the state level, powerful conservative oligarchs were defeated in Bahia and Pernambuco. The PT/left has retained dominance of presidential politics in the Nordeste following the 2010 and 2014 elections. As Brazilian democracy matured and the traditional power structures lost their influence, voting patterns have finally broken from the old traditions of coronelismo in the Nordeste and other regions.

First round results in municipalities with over 30% of the population receiving the Bolsa Família (source: Veja)

Another highly relevant contribution to voting patterns in recent presidential elections (since 2006) has been federal social programs. As the poorest region, the Nordeste has benefited the most from the federal government’s various social programs launched (mostly) under Lula or Dilma’s presidencies. The most famous and widespread of these programs is the Bolsa Família, which benefits 14 million families in Brazil – many of them in the Nordeste. Critics of these kind of cash transfer programs to poor populations consider these programs to be primarily clientelistic handouts, a very facile claim which demonstrates a piss-poor understanding of clientelistic politics and ignores the nature of the Bolsa Família. Regardless of what it is, the Bolsa Família has been a huge factor in the recent strength of the PT/left in the Nordeste. Veja‘s interactive map of the result (both rounds) allows you to filter the results according to certain variables, including the percentage of Bolsa Família beneficiaries (or, related to that, the municipality’s HDI or GDP per capita); the Folha de São Paulo also did similar work for the first round and runoff. The results are very revealing, as you can see from the map on the right. In municipalities where over 30% of residents receive the Bolsa Família, Dilma placed first in almost every single one of them – in the rural and inland Nordeste, she won over 70% in many of these municipalities. This graph, stolen from the Folha de São Paulo, shows the correlation between the Dilma vote in the first round and the percentage of the population receiving the Bolsa Família. There is a very clear correlation.

On the Veja map, you can also see the rather clear correlation between low HDI and a high Dilma vote, or a high HDI and a high Aécio vote.

In the race for Congress, the parties in Dilma’s coalitions retained – collectively – their large majorities in both houses of Congress. The PT-PMDB-PSD-PP-PR-PDT-PRB-PROS-PCdoB coalition (all parties which formally backed Dilma) won 304 seats out of 513 in the Chamber of Deputies. In addition to those parties, small venal parties such as the PTB can possibly be added to the government’s base in Congress given that they (a) include a lot of congressmen who are pro-government (like PTB senator Collor) and (b) they mostly end up backing whoever governs anyway. In the Senate, the government can count on about 52 seats (give or take a few) out of 81. The bulk of the congressional opposition in the next four years will be made up of the PSDB, PSB, DEM, PPS and PSOL.

The PT and PMDB suffered loses, however, in both houses of Congress; although the PT managed to remain the largest party in the Chamber, with a thin 4-seat edge over its big ally, the PMDB. The PSDB and PSB were the main winners in the Chamber, although the PRB also brought in a whole slew of deputies (like due to the success of PRB candidate Celso Russomano, who topped the poll in SP). The DEM, once again, were the main losers in the Chamber, even if you compare numbers to dissolution (as I did) to account for the creation of the PSD. Talking of the PSD, Kassab’s party was not considered as a big winner, given that the PSD came out with a smaller bench in the Chamber than it held prior to dissolution. The PSB, buoyed by its new-found independence from the PT and Marina’s candidacy, was another major winner, with 34 seats – up 9 from dissolution.

In the Senate, the PMDB’s plurality helps incumbent President Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL) hold his chair for another two-year term. In the Chamber of Deputies, however, with the PT still the largest party, President Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN) may struggle to retain the presidency of the house, especially considering how embattled he finds himself with the Petrobras accusations and his defeat in the gubernatorial race in Rio Grande do Norte.

This post will continue with a more in-depth look at state-level results. It is relevant to look at the most popular candidates for the Chamber in the country. As the largest state, São Paulo often elects the federal deputy who wins the most votes of all candidates for the Chamber in Brazil. This year, São Paulo – and Brazil’s – most popular candidate was Celso Russomano (PRB), who received 1.524 million votes (or 7.3% of the votes cast in the state), becoming the second-most popular candidate in Brazilian history after Eneás (2002). Russomano served as federal deputy between 1994 and 2012 before he ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor of São Paulo in 2012 but lost in the first round (after having been the early favourite). With his victory this year, he is likely a favourite for São Paulo’s 2016 mayoral election. In second place was Tiririca (PR), the professional clown and singer-songwriter elected federal deputy in 2010 with the most votes in the country; this year he won 1.016 million votes, less than 1.348 million votes he won in 2010 but still a hefty showing. In third place in the state was noted racist and homophobic neo-Pentecostal pastor/incumbent federal deputy Marco Feliciano (PSC), reelected with over 398,000 votes. Bruno Covas (PSDB), the grandson of former governor Mário Covas (PSDB), was elected to the Chamber of Deputies with the fourth-most votes in the state. In São Paulo, the landslide reelection of governor Geraldo Alckmin by the first round carried no less than 14 PSDB congressional candidates to the Chamber, compared to 13 in 2010. Paulinho da Força, the trade union leader and SD, was elected in tenth place with some 227,000 votes. The PT was one of the main losers in the state – the party elected 10 deputies, down from 15 in 2010. Its most popular candidate, Andrés Sanchez, the former president of the popular Corinthians football club, only placed 20th.  Cândido Vaccarezza, one of the leaders of the PT in the Chamber, was defeated, placing 98th (0.2%). Among those defeated in the state were Netinho de Paula (PCdoB), a former black singer and TV star who had unsuccessfully run for Senate in 2010. Elected to the city council of São Paulo in 2012, he has since faced a corruption allegation which saw his assets frozen by court order. In 2010, his senatorial campaign had been hurt by the revelation of an old case of domestic assault. He placed 65th with 0.4%. One prominent incumbent who went down to defeat was Roberto Freire (PPS), the longtime president of the PPS, who came in 84th place. In the fun world of Brazilian politics, a candidate registered as ‘Cosme Barack Obama’ (PMDB) came 601st.

In Rio de Janeiro, the most popular candidate – the third most popular candidate in Brazil – was seven-term incumbent Jair Bolsonaro (PP), a military reservist. Jair Bolsonaro is one of Brazil’s most controversial politicians – he is known for defending the use of torture, his open praise for the military dictatorship, crass sexist/rape apologist commentary (saying that he wouldn’t rape a deputy because she didn’t ‘deserve’ it), homophobic views (calling on fathers to spank their children to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality or ‘prevent’ them from being gay) and racism (against indigenous people, which he basically considers savages, and blacks, referring to interracial relationships as ‘promiscuity’). He was reelected with a much stronger vote than in 2010 – 464,572 votes (6.1%) compared to 120,646 (1.5%) in 2010. I fear that his various racist and homophobic outbursts in 2011 may have further boosted his profile and his popularity in certain social conservative and far-right circles. His son, Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSC-SP), just as repulsive as his father, was elected to the Chamber from SP, coming in 64th place. In second place in RJ was state deputy Clarissa Garotinho (PR), the daughter of former governor and federal deputy Anthony Garotinho – the clownish evangelical populist with strong appeals in low-income evangelical areas, was elected federal deputy with about 335,000 votes (4.4%). In 2010, her father had won 694.8 thousand votes when he was elected federal deputy from RJ. Incumbent federal deputy Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), one of the main leaders of the evangelical caucus, was reelected with 232.7k votes in third position. Chico Alencar and Jean Wyllys (an openly gay LGBT rights activist), two prominent PSOL deputies, were reelected finishing in 4th and 7th places respectively. Marco Antônio Cabral (PMDB), the son of former governor Sérgio Cabral (2007-2014), was elected to the Chamber in 9th place. A candidate named ‘Barack Obama Claudio Henrique’ (PT) came 289th.

In Alagoas, former governor (and Collor’s former arch-nemesis) Ronaldo Lessa (PDT) was elected federal deputy, finishing in fifth place with 6.4%. Pedro Vilela (PSDB), the nephew of outgoing governor Teo Vilela Filho (PSDB), was elected coming in third place with 8.6%. Arthur Lira (PP), one of the leaders of the rural caucus (a conservative coalition of landowners and allies, who take stances opposed to environmental conservation and in favour of laxer deforestation and slave labour regulations) in the Chamber, was reelected coming in fourth with 7.1%. In Bahia, Mário Negromonte Jr. (PP), the son of disgraced former cabinet minister Mário Negromonte, was elected in second place with 2.6%. Lúcio Vieira Lima (PMDB), another leader of the rural caucus, was the most popular candidate in the state. In Pernambuco, the candidates of the late Eduardo Campos’ PSB-led coalition were the big winners, with 8 federal deputies for the PSB – up from 5 in 2010. Former governor Jarbas Vasconcelos (PMDB), a one-time opponent turned ally of the PSB (since 2012), was elected to the Chamber with 5.1%, in third place. In Santa Catarina, incumbent federal deputy and ruralista leader Esperidião Amin (PP) was reelected in first place. In Amazonas, former governor and cabinet minister Alfredo Nascimento (PR), was elected with 7.2%, placing third in the state. In the DF, former deputy Alberto Fraga (DEM) and former governor Rogério Rosso (PSD) were the top two candidates.

In the race for the Senate in São Paulo, José Serra (PSDB) was elected to the Senate in a landslide, winning an impressive 58.5% against 32.5% for incumbent senator Eduardo Suplicy (PT), a 73-year old veteran of Brazilian and paulista politics who had served three terms in the Senate (first elected in 1990). Former mayor Gilberto Kassab (PSD), an ally of the government but a friend of José Serra, won 5.9% though he didn’t put much effort in his campaign. In Minas Gerais, Aécio ally and former governor Antonio Anastasia (PSDB) was elected to the Senate in a landslide, winning 56.7% against 40.2% for Josué Alencar (PMDB), the candidate of the PMDB-PT. In Rio de Janeiro, Romário (PSB), the famous star striker from the Brazilian Seleção’s victorious 1994 US World Cup campaign who was elected to the Chamber in 2010, was elected to the Senate with a massive 63.4% of the vote. The former three-term mayor of Rio (1993-1997, 2001-2009), Cesar Maia (DEM), an old figure of fluminense and carioca politics, was soundly defeated winning only 20.5%. In Rio Grande do Sul, Lasier Martins (PDT), a TV reporter, was elected with 37.4% against 35.3% for Olívio Dutra (PT), a former governor (1999-2002). Incumbent senator Pedro Simon (PMDB), a respected 84-year old veteran of Brazilian politics (active since the 1950s) and a four-term senator (including three consecutive terms, serving since 1991), was dragged out of retirement at the last minute in August to replace initial candidate Beto Albuquerque (PSB) – who ran for Vice President – won only 16.1%.

In Bahia, outgoing vice-governor Otto Alencar (PSD), the candidate backed by the PT and its allies, was elected with 55.9% against 34.5% for Geddel Vieira Lima (PMDB), the candidate backed by the centre-right. In Ceará, former governor and senator Tasso Jereissati (PSDB), defeated for reelection in 2010, returned to the Senate, with an easy victory (57.9%). In Maranhão, Roberto Rocha (PSB) – the son of a former governor and an opponent of the Sarney clan – was elected, with 51.4%, defeating Gastão Vieira (PMDB), the former tourism minister backed by the Sarney clan and Dilma, who won 44.7%. In Alagoas, incumbent senator Fernando Collor (PTB) was reelected easily, taking 55.7% against 31.9% for former senator Heloísa Helena (PSOL), who had some underhanded support from the PSDB.

In the first round of gubernatorial elections, the most notable result was the PSDB’s landslide victory by the first round in São Paulo, where popular incumbent governor Geraldo Alckmin was reelected to a second consecutive term in office with 57.3% against 21.5% for Paulo Skaf (PMDB) and a disastrous 18.2% for the PT’s Alexandre Padilha, the former health minister. Alckmin’s landslide was one of the biggest victories for the PSDB on October 6 and it immediately made him a frontrunner – along with Aécio – for the presidential nomination in 2018. In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent PMDB governor Luiz Fernando Pezão – who took office in April 2014 to replace Sérgio Cabral, the increasingly unpopular two-term incumbent – placed first on October 6, with 40.6% against 20.3% for evangelical bishop and senator Marcelo Crivella (PRB), who narrowly (and surprisingly) qualified for the runoff ahead of former governor Anthony Garotinho (PR), who won 19.7%. Lindberg Farias (PT), a senator, won only 10%, a disastrous result for the PT in RJ. In Minas Gerais, one of the few bright spots for the PT, Fernando Pimentel (PT) – a former mayor of Belo Horizonte (2002-2009) and industry minister (2011-2014) – was elected in the first round, with 53% against 41.9% for Aécio’s candidate Pimenta da Veiga (PSDB). The PSDB had controlled the state governorship since 2003. In Rio Grande do Sul, which is a notoriously anti-incumbent state, incumbent governor Tarso Genro (PT) was in trouble after the first round, where he won 32.6%, quite some distance behind centre-right candidate José Ivo Sartori (PMDB), who could count on the backing of third-place finisher, centre-right senator Ana Amélia Lemos (PP), who won 21.8%. In Paraná, in another major victory for the PSDB, incumbent governor Beto Richa (PSDB) was easily reelected with 55.7% against 27.7% for senator and former governor Roberto Requião (PMDB). Gleisi Hoffman (PT), a close Dilma ally as her Chief of Staff from 2011 to 2014, placed third with a disastrous 14.9% after having been touted as a formidable candidate.

In Alagoas, Renan Filho (PMDB), the son of the President of the Senate Renan Calheiros (PMDB), was elected governor with 52.2%. In Bahia, federal deputy Rui Costa (PT) was elected to succeed term-limited governor Jaques Wagner (PT) with 54.3% in the first round against 37.4% for former governor Paulo Souto (DEM), who had led every single poll except the last one which had indicated a 46-46 tie between the two candidates. In the DF, unpopular incumbent governor Agnelo Queiroz (PT) was defeated by the first round, placing third with 20.1%, with senator Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB) and federal deputy Jofran Frejat (PR) advancing to the runoff. In Maranhão, Sarney opponent Flávio Dino (PCdoB), at the helm of a composite anti-Sarney coalition, was elected in the first round, with 63.5% against senator Edison Lobão Filho (PMDB), the candidate supported by the Sarney clan (outgoing governor Roseana Sarney) and the President. In Pará, after the first round, incumbent governor Simão Jatene (PSDB) found himself locked in a very close contest against Helder Barbalho (PMDB), the young son of famous corrupt senator Jader Barbalho (PMDB) – Barbalho led with 49.9% against 48.5% for the incumbent. In Pernambuco, Paulo Câmara (PSB) – backed by the late Eduardo Campos – was elected in a landslide, winning 68.1% against 31.1% for senator Armando Monteiro (PTB), the candidate supported by Dilma’s PT. In Rio Grande do Norte, where incumbent governor Rosalba Ciarlini (DEM) didn’t even bother seeking an impossible second term, the first round was inconclusive – Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB), the President of the Chamber and member of a highly powerful local political dynasty in RN, was in first with 47.3% against 42% for vice-governor Robinson Faria (PSD), who had broken with the outgoing DEM governor in 2011.

National Results – October 26, 2014

Turnout in the first round was 78.9%.

Dilma Rousseff (PT) 51.64%
Aécio Neves (PSDB) 48.36%

Blank votes 1.71%
Invalid votes 4.63%

Brazil 2014 - Runoff

President Dilma Rousseff (PT), after one of the most exciting and open-ended presidential races in the history of modern Brazilian democracy, was narrowly reelected at the helm of a polarized and divided Brazil, with 51.64% against 48.36% for her opponent, Senator Aécio Neves (PSDB) – who, in the end, came closer to defeating Dilma than anyone could have imagined a few shorts weeks and months beforehand.

Unlike in the first round, there were no surprises in the national results – despite tucanos clinging to faint hopes that Aécio would still prevail as the underdog, the result was in line with was expected: a close race, but with a narrow edge to the incumbent President. Aécio barely overperformed his final polling numbers (47-48%).

The 2014 election – decided by a margin of 3.28% in the decisive round – was the closest direct presidential election in the history of the Nova República (New Republic)/Sixth Republic (that is to say since the end of the military regime) and even the entire history of Brazil. Prior to 2014, the closest post-military election had been Collor’s 1989 victory over Lula, with 6.1% in the second round. Cardoso had won by the first round in 1994 and 1998, Lula won in 2002 and 2006 by 22.6% and 21.7% respectively and Dilma was elected to her first term following a 12.1% victory in the second round against the PSDB’s José Serra. To find a presidential race closer than 2014, we need to go back to the Fourth Republic (1945-1964), which had single-round (FPTP) presidential elections – in 1955, Juscelino Kubitschek won by 5.4%. The 1960 vice-presidential election (back then, the VP was elected separately) was closer than 2014 – João Goulart won by 2.4%.

IBOVESPA stock exchange value, Aug. 1 to Oct. 29 (source: Google Finance)

The 2014 presidential election painted the picture of a deeply polarized and divided country – a reality which has led several Brazilian observers to draw parallels to the US, especially with the rise of voting patterns polarized along regional lines in Brazil and of red states/blue states similar to those in the US (of course, it’s a very academic thing to do, since states don’t matter in presidential races in Brazil, unlike in the US). Dilma, for a whole host of reasons, has become a very polarizing and divisive President, a love-hate figure who has a very strong base of support but also a very vocal base of opponents. Her opponents accuse her of financial mismanagement, rising inflation, low economic growth, complicity in corruption scandals, disrespecting the Central Bank’s autonomy,  the unsustainable growth of the public sector, profligate spending and taxation, opaque and discretionary dealings with businesses and the private sector and the rapid increase of public credit and subsidies (loans by state-owned banks) to companies. Dilma’s economic policies and mediocre record on economic and fiscal issues has also won her the disapproval of Brazilian markets, shareholders, domestic and foreign investors.

During the campaign, it was quite interesting to observe how the value of the BF&M BOVESPA (the São Paulo stock exchange) and the value of the real to the US dollar fluctuated in line with polls and campaign events – the stock exchange fell whenever polls favourable to Dilma came out, rose whenever good news for Marina/Aécio came out. The stock exchange’s value declined throughout September, as the odds increasingly favoured a Dilma reelection, but the stock exchange rose after Dilma’s poor result on October 6 before falling during the runoff campaign as Aécio’s early momentum wore off. It fell to a low after Dilma’s reelection. Similarly, the real fell throughout September as polls favoured Dilma, and rose on October 6 before falling to a new low against the US dollar following Dilma’s reelection. Dilma’s critics point out that she will need to give clear indications and favourable impressions to the markets – notably over her choice of a finance minister to replace Guido Mantega, also disliked by the markets. Her supporters argue, on the other hand, that Dilma was elected by voters and doesn’t owe anything to the markets.

Dilma will face a tough second term. On an economic front, bad numbers have continued to pile up since the election: inflation breaking the upper band (6.5%), low growth, the government failing to meet its primary surplus targets, somber markets and a low real. The appointment of Joaquim Levy, a banker with a PhD from the University of Chicago, as her new finance minister suggests that she will reorient her economic policies in a more conservative, neoliberal direction.

Politically, she becomes a lame-duck president who will see her own party and many of her allies – especially the PMDB – quickly looking ahead to 2018, where there is no obvious government dauphin waiting in the wings. She already had a tough relationship with Congress during her first term, she might face an even tougher one. Finally, the Petrobras scandal is quite big, and it’s not clear how big it could go. The opposition and Dilma’s critics have been pounding her relentlessly on the scandal, and certain people have already talked of impeachment.

Winner’s margin of victory by municipality (source: Folha de S. Paulo)

More than ever before, the election was polarized on regional lines. It is quite interesting to note that, compared to 2010, when Dilma won by 12.1%, only one federal unit – the DF – switched from the PT to the PSDB, despite a much narrower PT victory of 3.3% in 2014. The 2014 election was therefore more intensely polarized on regional lines than ever before – something which many inevitably compare to the US, increasingly polarized with ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’.

Absolutely key to Dilma’s victory was her massive margins in the Nordeste. In the region as a whole, she won 71.7%, compared to 70.6% in 2010. There were significant swings in her favour in the states of Alagoas (+8.49%), Paraíba (+2.71%), Piauí (+8.32%) and most impressively so in Rio Grande do Norte (+10.42%) and Sergipe (+13.45%). In the states of Bahia (-0.69%), Ceará (-0.6%) and Maranhão (-0.33%), the petista vote fell by less than 1% since 2010. The only Nordeste state which did witness a significant swing in line with the national trend was Pernambuco, where Aécio improved on Serra’s 2010 numbers by 5.45% – although even in Eduardo Campos’ old bastion, Dilma still won 70.2% of the vote.

Dilma’s numbers in the Nordeste varied between a high of 78.8% in Maranhão and a low of 62.1% in Alagoas – unlike in 2010, when she had been held under 60% in Alagoas, Sergipe and Rio Grande do Norte, Dilma won over 60% in every single state. In the Nordeste, her best results came from the inland semi-arid sertão – the poorest region in the country – where she won over 70%, if not 80%, of the vote in the vast majority of municipalities. She was weaker in urban areas (a reversal of the pre-2006 situation, where Northeastern cities leaned more to the left than rural areas did), which are wealthier and economically developed/diversified – Dilma won 59.2% in Recife (PE), down from 66.4% in 2010; yet she won 58.1% in Natal (RN), 51.1% in Maceió (AL) and 59.6% in Aracaju (SE) – all of which she had lost in 2010. Dilma won by large, albeit reduced, margins in 68% in Fortaleza, CE (68%), São Luis, MA (70.4%) and Salvador, BA (67.3%). Aécio won 58% in Campina Grande (PB), the second largest city in Paraíba and an affluent high-tech/university centre.

Aécio’s inability to make significant inroads in the Nordeste was one of the factors which led to his narrow defeat. The case of Pernambuco is rather instructive: Marina had won the state with 48% on October 6, causing Dilma’s support to fall by 17.5% compared to the first round in 2010. While Aécio was not expected to come close to winning the state, which remains a left-leaning Northeastern state, he could likely have done better, if he had been able to carry more of Marina’s first round voters. He gained 5.5% from José Serra’s 2010 results in PE (still the largest pro-PSDB swing in the Nordeste).

The importance of the Nordeste to Dilma’s victory led some angry anti-Dilma voters on Twitter to respond with pretty undignified and appalling comments on Twitter, attacking the region and its voters as ‘stupid’ in pretty melodramatic terms (under the hashtag #RIPBrasil).

Results by municipality in MG (source: Estadão)

The state of Minas Gerais was the bellwether swing state of this election. Although it wasn’t the decisive state – Dilma won by 3.46 million votes nationally and by 550,601 votes in MG – it was a key battleground, as well as the closest state (that the tightest state was still carried with 52.4% also shows how polarized the election was). Every victorious presidential candidate in Brazilian democratic history has carried MG, with the exception of Vargas in 1950. Dilma carried MG – Aécio’s home state (she was born in MG as well, but her political career was in RS) – with 52.41%, a substantial 6% loss from 2010, suggesting that Aécio did have a home state effect even if he failed to carry MG.

Minas Gerais is an extremely diverse state, in some ways a microcosm of the country as a whole. The map to the right shows the results of the second round by municipality, revealing some fairly clearly delineated regional differences within the state. The northeast and southeast of the state – the mesorregiões of Noroeste do Minas, Norte do Minas, Jequitinhonha, Vale do Mucuri, Vale do Rio Doce and Zona da Mata – voted heavily for Dilma, particularly the northeastern half. A natural extension of the Nordeste, this region is significantly poorer (and browner) than the rest of the state. The far north of the state is considered part of the sertão and the semi-arid low rainfall polígono das secas. Dilma won over 75-80% in a number of municipalities in the northeastern extremity of Minas, numbers very similar to what she won just across state lines in Bahia.

% vulnerable to poverty in MG (Atlas do Desenvolvimento Humano no Brasil, UNDP)

On the other hand, Aécio did very well in the Belo Horizonte metro area – in the state capital, an affluent urban centre, he won 64.3%, compared to only 50.4% for Serra four years ago. He also swung several suburban municipalities, including Contagem. Aécio also improved in the southwest of the state, an economically developed and fairly well-off region demographically similar to neighboring areas in the state of São Paulo. The one oddity, however, was Dilma’s decisive victory in the Triângulo Mineiro and Alto Paranaíba – the far west appendage of Minas – which is the wealthiest region in the state. Given that demographically similar areas across state lines in Goiás voted PSDB, I hypothesize that this region’s unusual left-wing leanings may be due to the strong regionalist movement in the area seeking statehood.

Another key state for Dilma’s victory was Rio de Janeiro, where she won 54.9%, down 5.5% from 60.5% in 2010. It was a pretty bad year for the left and the PT in particular in RJ, an historically left-leaning state. Dilma lost over 10% from her 2010 result in the city of Rio, squeaking out an extremely narrow 50.8% victory over Aécio. She was defeated in the affluent liberal city of Niterói across the Bay from Rio, with Aécio winning 54.9% compared to Serra’s 47.4% four years ago. Dilma, however, held tight in Rio’s poorer northern suburbs, suffering less severe loses compared to 2010. She won 69.1% in Duque de Caxias, 63.9% in Nova Iguaçu, 66% in São João de Meriti, 74.8% in Belford Roxo and 68% in São Gonçalo.

While the Nordeste trended even further to the left, Aécio raked up some impressive margins in the richer and traditionally right-leaning states of São Paulo and the South. In the key Southeast swing region (made up of MG, RJ, ES and SP), Aécio won 56.2% compared to 48.1% for Serra in 2010. In the South, which was Serra’s best region with 53.9% in 2010, Aécio won 58.9%. He also carried the Centre-West region with 57.4%, a major improvement from Serra’s 50.9% in the region in 2010. In the state of São Paulo, the tucano stronghold par excellence, Aécio won an historic 64.3% – meaning that Dilma lost a massive 10.3% from her 2010 support in the state. In the bloodbath, Aécio carried all of the state’s major cities and demolished the PT even in its old strongholds – the industrial ABC paulista (the birthplace of the PT) and Campinas’ industrial suburbs. In the right-leaning city of São Paulo, which José Serra had won with 53.6% in 2010, Aécio won 63.8%. In the ABC paulista, Dilma only narrowly retained Diadema, with 53.9% (66.5% in 2010); she lost in São Bernardo do Campo (falling from 56.2% to 44.1%), Santo André (falling from 48.8% to 36.7%) and Mauá (from 57% to 43.8%). Although the ABC paulista remains poorer than downtown São Paulo, the region has changed substantially since Lula was a trade union leader in the 1970s-1980s – it has become wealthier, economic liberalization has transformed the local economy and heavy industry has declined in favour of services and commerce.

The predominantly white and wealthy southern states of Paraná and Santa Catarina also swung heavily to Aécio – who won 61% and 64.6% in those states, +5.5% and +8% respectively from 2010. In Rio Grande do Sul – which really forms a distinctive regional subculture on its own, and is politically complicated – Aécio won 53.5%, and the swing was smaller (+2.6% on 2010). Perhaps Aécio would have preferred if Dilma carried RS – the state has voted for the loser in every election since 1989, except 2002!

The only federal unit to vote for a different party than in 2010 was the Federal District (Brasília) – which had the second largest swing of any federal unit in Brazil. Dilma had narrowly carried the DF with 52.8% in 2010; four years later, her vote share fell by 14.7% and Aécio won the DF with no less than 61.9%. The DF has the highest HDI of all federal units; it is a largely middle-class district, with an economy heavily driven by the federal government/public sector. While affluent, its public sector-driven economy has meant that the DF has usually leaned somewhat to the left. This year’s result is part of a broader trend which saw middle-class areas of all kind swing heavily towards Aécio, even those like the DF or Rio which have large public sector employment. Middle-class voters have shifted away from the PT since 2006, this year the swing was even more pronounced. Middle-class voters tend to be particularly sensitive to corruption and they largely dislike Dilma’s economic and fiscal policies. In the DF specifically, Dilma was also badly hurt by the unpopularity of the incumbent PT governor, defeated in the first round.

In the other states of the Centre-West (which all voted for Aécio), Goiás swung towards the PSDB (+6.4%) while Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul had smaller swings (+3.6% and +1.2% respectively).

The North is an odd region when it comes to politics – and it had some odd results this year. Dilma improved on her horrendous 2010 results in Acre and Roraima, gaining 6% and 7.7% respectively (she still lost both, 63.7-36.3 in AC and 59-41 in RR); she also improved in Pará (+4.2%) and Tocantins (+0.6%). However, the state of Amazonas – where she won 80.6% in 2010 – had the biggest swing in the country, with her support falling by 15.6 points to 65%. I’m not quite sure why Amazonas swung so heavily against her while Acre, Roraima and Pará swung particularly heavily towards her – local factors probably a big reason here.

First round results in municipalities with over 30% of the population receiving the Bolsa Família (source: Folha de S. Paulo)

As in the first round the main determinant of voting patterns were class, economic development, race and federal social programs. Going back to Veja and the Folha‘s interactive maps, looking at the results in those municipalities where over 30% of families receive the Bolsa Família is again very telling. There are some exceptions, but basically the vast, vast majority of municipalities where over three in ten receive the Bolsa Família voted for Dilma – usually by big margins. Few of these poor municipalities voted for Aécio. On the other hand, there are relatively few regions where less than 30% receive the Bolsa Família that voted for Dilma. The urban areas of the Nordeste, RJ, the Triângulo Mineiro, Minas’ Zona da Mata and rural RS appear as the only ‘wealthier’ regions which voted for Dilma.

All in all, the 2014 election continued geographic and demographic trends which begun in 2006. However, the class and regional polarization was much deeper in 2014 than in 2006 or 2010. Middle-class states and cities moved further to the right, while poor states and cities swung less heavily or even moved further to the left. The results in the cities of São Paulo, Curitiba (PR), Porto Alegre (RS), Goiânia (GO), Florianópolis (SC), Belo Horizonte (MG), Brasília and Rio de Janeiro – predominantly middle-class cities – are quite telling. They all moved further to the right, even in cities like Porto Alegre, Brasília, BH and Rio which had left-wing leanings in the past.

In gubernatorial runoffs, Rio de Janeiro reelected Luiz Fernando Pezão (PMDB) with 55.8% in a runoff against Marcelo Crivella, the evangelical bishop and senator. In anti-incumbent Rio Grande do Sul, incumbent governor Tarso Genro (PT) was unsurprisingly defeated by a wide margin by centre-right candidate José Ivo Sartori (PMDB), who won 61.2%. In the DF, no surprises as senator Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB) defeated Jofran Frejat (PR) with 55.6%. In Goiás, incumbent tucano governor Marconi Perillo won a second term with 57.4% of the vote. In Rio Grande do Norte, vice-governor Robinson Faria (PSD) defeated Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB) by a comfortable margin, winning 54.4%. In Pará, governor Simão Jatene (PSDB) won reelection narrowly with 51.9% in a close contest with Helder Barbalho (PMDB). Only one woman was elected governor in 2014, in Roraima.

Continue to read below the fold for full state-by-state results.

Read the rest of this entry

Sweden 2014

Due to time constraints on my part, I can unfortunately fully cover only a few of past and upcoming elections. Next up will be Brazil. I gladly accept guest posts, as always.

Parliamentary, regional and local elections were held in Sweden on September 14, 2014. The main draw of the election was, naturally, the election of the 349 members of Sweden’s unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag. In addition, voters also elected the members of the county councils (landsting) in 20 counties and municipal councils (kommunfullmäktige) in all 290 kommuner.

Electoral system

Map of Sweden (source: ezilon)

The member of the Riksdag are elected by party-list proportional representation for fixed four-year terms. For electoral purposes, the country is divided into 29 districts – these correspond to Sweden’s 21 counties (län) except in the case of the three most populous counties which are further subdivided: Stockholm County has two districts (the city of Stockholm itself and the county), Scania/Skåne has four districts (Malmö kommun, Skåne west, Skåne south, Skåne north and east) and Västra Götalands has five districts (Gothenburg kommun, Västra Götalands west, Västra Götalands north, Västra Götalands south, Västra Götalands east). Together, the constituencies have 310 ‘fixed constituency seats’ – with district magnitude calculated before every election on the basis of population, with each district now returning between 38 and 2 members. In the first stage, the fixed seats are distributed nationally between parties which have obtained 4% of the vote nationally or 12% in one district, using a modified Saint-Laguë method. In the second stage, a new distribution is made with the same method but taking all 349 seats (only parties which won 4% are taken into account, any fixed seats won by parties which passed the 12% threshold in one district are disregarded), which in turn determines the difference between the fixed seats won and the theoretical national distribution. The remaining 39 seats, called adjustment seats, are distributed between parties to even out the results – parties which won more fixed seats than its theoretical share of the 349 seats, it is disregarded. The adjustment seats are then distributed between the districts.

In all elections, voters may cast one preferential vote for a candidate, who may then be moved up the list and elected on preference vote if he/she has obtained 5% of the party’s vote in the constituency.

Members of county councils and municipal councils are elected using a similar system. Counties are also divided into electoral districts, which return 9/10 of the council’s members with the remaining tenth being adjustment seats. The threshold for representation, however, is 3%. In municipal councils, all seats are ‘fixed seats’ and there is no threshold.

Sweden has 21 counties, but only 20 county councils, because the small island-county of Gotland is made up of only one kommun, which has the responsibilities of a county. County councils’ main responsibility is the provision, financing and management of public healthcare although they also have some other powers related to public transport and regional economic development. The kommun is generally in charge of maintaining local services, some decentralized responsibilities over healthcare management and maintaining local utilities.

Sweden is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Like Denmark, Sweden uses a system of ‘negative parliamentarianism’ – which means that an absolute majority of members must vote against the government or the Speaker’s choice for Prime Minister for it to fall, with any abstentions effectively counting as votes in favour. However, a constitutional amendment passed in November 2010 will now require Prime Ministers to face a vote of confidence in the Riksdag within two weeks of the election, with over half of the members required to vote against for the Prime Ministerial candidate to be rejected. Until now, a government could continue to govern in an unclear parliamentary situation until they could be toppled by a confidence vote.

The Riksdag may be dissolved early under strict conditions. According to Sweden’s Instrument of Government, an ‘extraordinary election’ may be called by the government three months after a newly-elected Riksdag has first convened (and may not be called within three months of a regularly scheduled election) if the Riksdag has rejected the Speaker’s choice for Prime Minister or if a government has lost a motion of no confidence (a caretaker government – ie one which has resigned but remains in office – cannot call an early election). Furthermore, an ‘extraordinary election’ is unlike an early election in other countries – it is basically a giant by-election to fill out of the rest of the regularly-elected Riksdag’s full four-year term, meaning that there is still a regular election four years after the last regularly-scheduled election was held. In this case, this means that there may be an early election between now and 2018, but there is still guaranteed to be an election in September 2018 regardless. An early election has only been held once, in 1958, two years after the regular 1956 election. A regularly-scheduled election was held in 1960.

Parties and Issues

Sweden has a multi-party system, which is traditionally divided into a left-wing bloc and a right-wing, or bourgeois, bloc. The Social Democrats (S), Sweden’s natural governing party, leads the left-wing bloc – but it has lost its dominance on the left, with competition from the Greens (Mp) and the Left Party (V). The Social Democrats have very little history of formal electoral or even government cooperation with other parties. The bourgeois bloc has historically been divided between conservatives, liberals and centrist Nordic agrarians – today’s Moderate Party (M), Liberal People’s Party (Fp) and Centre Party (C), and now the Christian Democrats (KD). Since 2006, these four right-wing parties have formed a coalition government and electoral alliance, known as the Alliance for Sweden. Parties outside these general blocs have emerged from time to time, most recently the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) and Feminist Initiative (F!).

Sweden is often known for its generous welfare state, being taken as the ‘model’ for the so-called universal or social democratic welfare regimes. The generous but costly welfare state, which is very popular in Sweden, has been financed by high taxes – Sweden has one of the highest tax burdens in the world and tax revenues make up for 45% of GDP (the fifth highest level in the EU, after Denmark, Belgium, Austria and France). As a result, Sweden and its neighbors rank highly on various indices or indicators of well-being: high life expectancy, good education systems, high rankings on the HDI, the lowest levels of income inequality in the world and high levels of gender equality. Politically, the Nordic countries are the least corrupt in the world and, in Sweden, trust in political leaders remains high (looking at it from the US or other European countries, it seems as if it’s a whole different planet).

Although taxation and public spending are very high by international standards, Sweden and its Nordic neighbors shouldn’t be seen as ‘tax-and-spend planned economies’ – it ranks highly on indices of ‘economic freedom’, there are few barriers to free trade, the free market economy and private sector is quite vibrant and there is a strong tradition of social partnership which has usually resulted in peaceful labour relations. Sweden is also a very globalized country, with a very strong export economy (look only to internationally-known Swedish firms such as Ikea, Volvo and Ericsson) and a cosmopolitan population (the Nordic countries have the highest numbers of non-native English speakers in Europe). Free-market reformists, such as The Economist, may often look to Sweden as an example.

Reforms in Sweden in the 1990s also resulted in several changes to taxation, pensions, education and the provision of welfare services. A 1990 tax reform significantly reduced income taxes (on labour income) and corporate taxes (which currently stand at 22%) from the high levels of the 1970s-1980s (where the top marginal tax rate was usually 80-85%). The size of Sweden’s public sector has been significantly reduced – Social Democratic governments in the post-war eras famously created a large public sector and in the mid-1990s, government spending accounted for over 65% of GDP. Today, it accounts for 50% or so of GDP. An education reform in 1992 introduced school vouchers, and Swedish parents now have the choice to send their children to public schools or publicly-funded but privately-run free schools which may operate as non-profit or for profit. Sweden’s education reforms have been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. Welfare services such as education, healthcare and senior care have been ‘marketized’ and may be offered by privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) companies. However, scandals about aged care facilities or daycares which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins have opened a huge political debate about ‘profit in welfare’.

The Moderates (Moderaterna, M), formally the Moderate Coalition Party (Moderata samlingspartiet), are the main centre-right party in Sweden, the senior partner in the Alliance for Sweden bourgeois bloc which has governed Sweden since 2006. The Moderates have been the strongest party on the right since 1979, and prior to that between 1920 and 1948 (and in 1958); M’s support, however, has varied considerably, reaching a high of 30% in 2010 but polling below 15% between 1964 and 1976. The Moderates have historically been the conservative right-wing party in the bourgeois bloc, often considered as being the most right-wing of the bourgeois parties (it was known as the Right Party from 1952 to 1969) and promoting traditional conservative values such as defense, law-and-order, the monarchy and the greatest reluctance towards the welfare state. Under Fredrik Reinfeldt, however, M has seriously revamped and moderated its image – among other things, it likes to call itself Nya Moderaterna or ‘New Moderates’.

The conservatives were one of the two main groups in Swedish politics in the 19th century – representing the aristocracy, the wealthy and the military, they protectionism, wanted a strong military and were skeptical of expanding suffrage. To this day, M remains associated with the wealthiest elites, their values and their attitudes.

Arvid Lindman, two-times Prime Minister (1906-1911 and 1928-1930), was the key figure of the conservative right until 1935; he expanded male suffrage to near-universal franchise in 1907-1909, supported strong defense, supported protectionism but strongly opposed fascism and Nazism (although the youth wing embraced Nazism in 1934). After electoral success in 1928, right-wing support declined consistently in the 1930s and 1940s, falling from 29% in 1928 to 12% in 1948 – and thereafter, until the mid-1970s, the conservatives lost their dominance of the right first to the Liberals (Fp) and later to the Agrarians/Centre (C), who became the chief rivals to the Social Democrats. The party was seen as archaic/outdated and too right-wing by many (hence the adoption of the name Moderates in 1969). It was under the leadership of Gösta Bohman, M’s leader from 1970 to 1981, that the Moderates slowly clawed their way back into (distant) second and dominance of the bourgeois bloc. He was a very vocal opponent of Social Democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme’s left-wing policies. M participated in Thorbjörn Fälldin’s bourgeois coalition cabinets from 1976 to 1978 and from 1979 to 1981. In 1979, M became the largest bourgeois party, ahead of the liberals and centrists; during this same period, M also moved away from traditionalist conservatism and towards modern liberal conservatism.

Led by Carl Bildt, M increased its support in the 1991 election and the bourgeois bloc formed a government (dependent, however, on the abstention of the right-wing populist and anti-immigration New Democracy, a flash in the pan). Bildt, however, took office during the toughest economic crisis in Sweden. The Swedish economy fell into a severe three-year recession (1991, 1992 and 1993) after a housing bubble, similar to the American subprime mortgage bubble in 2007-8, burst and placed major strains on the government’s debt and deficit and resulted in a massive surge in unemployment from 3% in 1991 to 9% in 1994. Credit liberalization in 1985 greatly facilitated access to loans, but banks and financial companies became contaminated by the real estate bubble. The government responded by guaranteeing all bank deposits and creditors, assuming bad bank debts (but banks had to write down losses and issue an ownership interest to the state), abandoning the fixed exchange rate and two major banks were nationalized and their bad debts were transferred to the asset-management. To deal with the crisis, the government also adopted austerity policies including cuts in subsidies, spending cuts, cut payroll taxes, reduced some welfare benefits and privatized some state assets. The right-wing government also introduced several major reforms which remain in place today: the introduction of a voucher system allowing parents to send their children to private schools, a major pension reform which moved from a defined benefit to defined contribution system and introduced a private financial defined contribution element to promote savings. The pension reform was the product of a wide parliamentary consensus with the Social Democrats, who passed implementing legislation and adopted an automatic adjustment mechanism when they returned to power after 1994. In 1994, M remained stable (at 22.4%), but its three coalition allies lost substantially while the left-wing parties led by the Social Democrats gained votes and returned to power.

The 2002 election was a disaster for M, which collapsed to only 15.3% of the vote. Bo Lundgren’s trainwreck of a campaign, which promised wild tax cuts without anything to substantiate them, was widely blamed for the party’s poor result and led many in the party to have a real reflection on their direction as a party. A hidden camera investigation by the investigative journalism program Uppdrag granskning on the public broadcaster SVT, in which M members and local councillors expressed racist opinions, is also widely blamed for M’s terrible result that year.

In 2003, M turned to Fredrik Reinfeldt – an unlikely candidate to lead the successful reinvention of the party. Indeed, Reinfeldt was a former maverick youth leader from the party’s (Thatcherite) right who had, in the 1990s, gained some notoriety for authoring a book, The Sleeping People, which was extremely critical of the Swedish welfare state and argued for neoliberal reforms to substantially roll back the state’s role in society. He was also openly critical of Carl Bildt and other M leaders; he argued that Bildt was the perfect leader for the left to satirize because he was a walking stereotype of the Swedish conservative (a nobleman living in an affluent district of Stockholm).

Under Reinfeldt, M has moved to the centre and revamped its image to be seen as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. Ideologically, M adapted its traditional focus on tax cuts by targeting them towards low and middle-income earners rather than the wealthy; it has focused on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state and finally has given great emphasis to the idea of ‘making work pay’ – reducing unemployment through tax reforms, stricter conditions for unemployment benefits. The Moderates have also widely adopted the name ‘New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour, as an unofficial name. It remains a hot issue of political debate whether M has merely honing the way it describes its ideology or if it represents a real shift towards the centre. At any rate, M’s new image blurred differences with other centre-right parties and greatly improved the popular image of the bourgeois bloc.

The other major change under Reinfeldt was the construction of a successful electoral alliance with the other bourgeois parties. A key factor in Social Democratic strength and bourgeois weakness, historically, in Sweden has been the division of the bourgeois parties and intense competition for right-wing voters between the main right-wing parties. In 2004, the four bourgeois parties – M, the Liberals, the Centre and the Christian Democrats – joined forces in a common electoral alliance, the Alliance for Sweden (Allians för Sverige). Thanks to a very strong result from M (26.2%), the Alliance narrowly won the 2006 elections and Reinfeldt became Prime Minister at the helm of a four-party coalition government.

In power, the centre-right has largely been pragmatic and moderate, aiming to present an image of ideological moderation and responsibility. The government’s landmark policy achievement, which has been quite popular, is the earned income tax credit, a tax credit targeting low and middle-income workers which reduces the tax to be paid on income from employment. To boost job creation, the government also brought in some labour market reforms, the most contentious of which has been the Jobs and Development Guarantee (JOB).

The government’s goal was to increase the after-tax income of those who work compared to those reliant on transfer payments and social benefits – in short, to increase the incentives for those outside the labour market (the unemployed) to proactively look for a job and ultimately increase employment. In return, however, the government changed the rules on unemployment benefits. To access unemployment benefits, the beneficiary must have worked 80 hours a month in 6 of the last 12 months or 480 hours during 6 consecutive months of the last 12 months, with the benefits based on the average income in the last 12 instead of 6 months. To access income-related benefits, a person must have been a member of a union-managed unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa) for 12 months; there is a basic amount of SEK320 per day for those who are not members or have not been members long enough. The generosity of benefits also decline gradually based on the length of unemployment, and are no longer paid out after 300 days unless a work requirement is fulfilled as part of Sweden’s active labour market policies. These policies hurt those working on fixed-term contracts, about 500,000 people. The government also significantly increased employee contributions to Sweden’s income-related and union-managed unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa), with the result being a substantial decline in union and A-kassa membership in 2007-2008. Only in 2014 did the government abolish the additional contributions to the unemployment insurance funds. The government also cut advantages for paid sick leave, with most receiving 80% of their salary for a year capped at SEK 708 per day (it was unlimited in time before). Reinfeldt said that his policies sought to root out a certain culture of passiveness, and prodding people to accept any kind of paid work.

The government also abolished the wealth tax, replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level, eliminated tax credits for union or A-kassa membership, privatized some state assets (notably V&S Group, the former state-owned alcohol producer and distributor until 1994 and manufacturer of Absolut Vodka) and cut some government agencies. Somewhat controversially, the bourgeois government also introduced tax credits for household services (such as domestic work) and allowed for municipal child-raising tax credits (which allows parents to stay at home longer to take care of their young children), two policies which the left is against. However, privatization and smaller government have not been distinctive features of the government – some reports have said that, despite the elimination of several government boards and agencies, but there had been no real change in the number of employees.

When the global economic crisis hit, the country’s economic growth fell by 0.6% in 2008 and 5% in 2009. The economy recovered with handsome 6.6% growth in 2010, the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Unemployment increased from about 5.5-6% prior to the crisis to a peak of 9% in April 2010. The government responded with expansionary stimulus measures, passing the first such stimulus package in the fall of 2008. Anti-crisis policies included a mix of tax cuts (corporate tax and taxes on pensioners), an annual allocation to municipalities and county councils for social services, the allocation of SEK 1 billion a year to county councils for hospitals, a guarantee to banks, labour market policies to help recently and long-term unemployed workers (including apprenticeships, reduced payroll taxes for employers taking on a long-term unemployed person), increased resources in key social services (childcare, elderly care, education) and an increase in some welfare benefits (housing benefits, child benefits). For electoral reasons, the government – with Social Democratic support – chose to dilute the effects of the automatic adjustment mechanism on pensions by spreading the cuts over several years. Nevertheless, pensioners’ loss of income was at the heart of the 2010 election, in which the Alliance promised a SEK 2.5 billion tax cut for the retired in 2011. Government finances remained healthy, with a small 0.7% deficit in 2009 and a return to a balanced budget for 2010 and 2011.

The Alliance was reelected in 2010, but was reduced to a minority government (3 seats short of a majority). M was the most successful party, winning 30.1%, a record-high result and coming within less than one point of overtaking the Social Democrats for first (S has been the single largest party since 1914); M’s three Alliance partners, however, lost votes.

One of the centre-right government’s strongest points in the past had been its responsible stewardship of the economy – often emphasizing that Sweden was, compared to other EU member-states, performing very well economically. Both Reinfeldt and his popular finance minister, Anders Borg, have received high marks from voters when it comes to economic management. Since 2010, however, while Sweden has been performing well, there has been a clear economic slowdown because of lower demand and a strong krona hurting Swedish exports. The economy grew by only 0.9% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013. Unemployment has remained higher than at pre-recession levels – frustratingly stable at about 8% (about 2% higher than in 2006, when the right won) and youth unemployment is very high (23.5% for those under 25, above the EU-28 average of 22%). The government nevertheless repeatedly emphasized that Sweden was doing well – a budget deficit way below the EU’s 3% limit, a budget balance projected in 2016 and more optimistic growth numbers for 2014-5.

Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. Upon taking office in 2006, two cabinet ministers promptly resigned after they admitted that they had not paid their TV licenses and employed nannies without paying the necessary taxes; the Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, Tobias Billström, did not resign and remained in office throughout the two terms despite not having paid his TV license either.

The purchase of Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for SEK 89 billion in 2013 sparked controversy earlier this year, when it transpired that Vattenfall had likely paid more for Nuon than what it was worth (and that the government had actually been advised that the deal would be unprofitable, and Borg/Reinfeldt’s hardly believable claims that the deal was made by a former cabinet minister, former Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson, without their knowledge); in 2012, the defense minister was forced because of a secret deal where the Swedish government helped Saudi Arabia build a weapons factor.

As in 2006 and 2010, the Alliance put forward a common manifesto in 2014. The full document is available in English here. The largely uninspiring focused on maintaining existing policies and promoting the government’s most popular policies, notably the earned income tax credit, and a goal to have 5 million employed people by 2020 (which would be about 350,000 new people in the labour market). Employment ranked first in the Alliance manifesto, with promises including investments in transportation infrastructure; speeding up construction by relaxing costs and regulations; building a world-class business climate by simplifying rules; creating more paths to jobs with labour market policies targeting vocational training and traineeships; a focus on youth employment (lowering social security contributions for people under 23, on-the-job training, raise apprentice pay, foster entrepreneurship in high school); motivating the elderly to lead a longer working life; ensuring gender equality in the workplace (but it committed to retaining the domestic employee tax deduction); investments in R&D and a secure energy supply.

Education was another major topic for the Alliance. It promised more teachers; smaller classes in lower grades; focus on the three Rs; more assessments; ensuring students have upper secondary (high school grades 10 to 12, which is non-compulsory) eligibility when graduating compulsory education; stricter quality controls in all schools and preschools and giving teachers more time to teach (cutting administrative tasks and introducing externally-marked national exams). The Alliance also promised better accessibility and quality in healthcare, strengthening elder care and increase the number of training places for midwives and nurses.

Criminality and security are always important issues for the centre-right. This year, the right promised tougher penalties for violent and serious crimes, to intensify the fight against fraud, crack down further on domestic violence and rape but also take some measures to favour rehabilitation while being even tougher on repeat offenders.

The Alliance is strongly pro-immigration. The government has taken an open-door policy towards asylum seekers, welcoming a huge influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. About 40,000 Syrians have immigrated to Sweden since the start of the conflict, and the government expects 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 after it decided to offer permanent residency to all Syrians – meaning that Sweden has accepted more Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, per capita, than any other EU member-state. Overall, according to the Swedish Migration Board, about 24.5k individuals were granted asylum in 2013 compared to 12.5k in 2012. Already in the first eight months of 2014, over 50,000 applications for asylum were received and 20,317 people have already been grated asylum. Reinfeldt, a few weeks before the vote, urged Swedes “open their hearts” to Syrian refugees. The Swedish government has urged other EU members to accept more Syrian refugees. The Alliance’s manifesto focused on improving integration, helping municipalities shoulder the costs of newcomers, facilitate immigrants’ entrance into the labour market and Swedish society.

Environment-wise, the Alliance’s manifesto called for a bonus-malus system for cars, raising the vehicle tax by raising the CO² charge, ensuring renewable fuels enjoy good conditions, building a toxin-free environment and promoting green industries as ‘growth engines’.

The Alliance’s manifesto did not mention foreign policy or European affairs, likely due to the diversity of views on those issues between members. M, however, is one of the most pro-European/EU parties in Sweden and its voters supported the introduction of the Euro in the unsuccessful 2003 referendum on the issue. Since then, however, M has not made the adoption of the Euro an issue and only a small minority of voters are still favourable to that idea, post-Eurozone crisis. M is also strongly supportive of free trade.

A distinctive feature of the 2014 Alliance manifesto was that it contained no clear promises for further, new tax cuts if it was reelected. This may be because of the left’s criticisms that the Alliance government gave too much in tax cuts and ignored social exclusion and jobs; polls showed that most voters in 2014 were concerned by social issues such as education, healthcare and jobs.

The contemporary New Moderates can be seen as a centre-right liberal conservative party, which believes in modern conservative values such as free trade, a smaller government, the reduction of state ownership, a high value for employment and work and support to small businesses.

The Social Democrats or Swedish Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Socialdemokraterna or Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti, S or SAP) are Sweden’s natural governing party, having governed the country without interruption between 1936 and 1976, and again between 1982 and 1991 and most recently from 1994 to 2006. This record makes it one of the most electorally successful left-wing parties in the Western world, having won the most seats in every single election in the last 100 years and receiving over 40% of the vote in every election between 1932 and 1991, although in Sweden’s multi-party system, S broke 50% only twice in its history. In the last decades, however, the Social Democrats have seen their base and dominance eroded and challenged from both the left and right. The party hasn’t won over 40% of the vote since 1994 (although it came close in 2002) and, barring a sea-change in political opinion, it appears unlikely that the party will come close to winning over 40% again.

The Swedish Social Democrats quickly became a moderate social democratic party which embraced parliamentarianism and rejected revolutionary Marxism – it entered a coalition with the Liberals following the 1917 election, and the first SAP Prime Minister of Sweden Hjalmar Branting (1920, 1921-1923, 1924-1925) was a moderate who opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and forcefully argued the merits of democracy. After the Great Depression, the Social Democrats imposed themselves and quickly came to dominate Swedish politics for the next few decades, through several emblematic leaders – Per Albin Hansson (1932-1946), Tage Erlander (1946-1969) and Olof Palme (1969-1976 and 1982-1986). Per Albin Hansson coined and developed the concept of the folkhemmet (the people’s home), a promise for a compassionate society which would level the economic playing field and break down all social and economic barriers between classes; in practice, it meant abandoning the traditional idea of the class struggle and nationalizations in favour of social corporatism, a planned economy and the construction of the welfare state.

Social Democratic governments under the aforementioned Prime Ministers would develop Sweden’s famous welfare state – often held up (by some, largely on the left) as a ‘model’ of an ideal, universal welfare state – on the basis of the folkhemmet ideas. Significant policies of the welfare state adopted by Social Democratic governments under this ‘golden age’ of Swedish social democracy included a basic pension, universal child benefits (1948), parental leave, supplemental pensions (an issue of hot political debate between the left and the right in 1957), centralized supervision of union-controlled and state-subsidized unemployment funds, housing allowances and universal healthcare (implemented by 1955). One of the more famous policies of the SAP governments was the Million Programme, an ambitious housing policy in the 1960s and 1970s to remedy the housing shortage and provide affordable housing by building a million housing units over a ten-year period. Many of the neighborhoods developed under the Million Programme have, however, become synonymous with urban decay, marginalization and social exclusion. Large housing projects such as Rosengård (Malmö), Rinkeby (Stockholm), Tensta (Stockholm) and Hammarkullen (Gothenburg) concentrate large population of low-income immigrants, often non-white. The government funded its policies through high levels of taxation, including a wealth tax first introduced in 1947 but also indirect taxes (VAT). Trade unions gained a great amount of power in the Swedish labour market, and Sweden has one of the highest unionization rates in the world – despite a steep decline, it still stood at 67.7% in 2013 (second behind Finland in the OECD) and it was at 80% in 1999. The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO), the large blue-collar union which is closely tied to the SAP, remains a key player in social and workplace relations in Sweden and its 1938 agreement with the employers’ federation (SAF) allowed for decades of social calm, economic growth and good conditions for workers. LO followed a ‘solidarity wage policy’ – based on the idea that pay should be based on the work performed rather than a company’s profitability. The successful implementation of this idea up until the 1970s was based on a degree of wage restraint by better-paid employees and the recognition that weak firms might fold (to mitigate this, LO supported an active labour market policy to allow relocation of workers made redundant in low-profit firms). The ‘solidarity wage policy’ was successful for a time, but significant wage drift occurred and by the late 1970s, it was no longer successful.

Swedish Social Democrats election results 1911-2010 (source: sv.wikipedia.org)

Olof Palme, who has become a left-wing icon around the world as a result of his 1986 assassination but also his strong involvement in foreign affairs, was a love-hate figure – his arrogance, autocratic tendencies and his more radical leftist policies polarized Swedish society. Elections in the 1970s and early 1980s under Palme’s leadership were closely fought between the right-wing bloc and SAP, even resulting in a perfect tie between the left and right in 1973 and the narrow victory of the right in 1976 and 1979 (the first time SAP fell from power since 1936). Policies from Palme’s time in office include workplace co-determination (which increased labour unions and employees’ power in the workplace and enterprise management), an expansion of the generosity and scope of the welfare state (heavily financed through tax increases, especially on higher incomes), the elimination of the upper house of the Riksdag (1971) and its transformation into a unicameral legislature and a major constitutional reform which made Sweden a ‘crowned republic’ (the King lost even his nominal powers, such as appointment of the Prime Minister and cabinet). A particularly controversial policy introduced after the Social Democrats returned to power in 1982 were the wage-earner funds (an issue of hot debate since the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, introduced a policy proposal for the scheme in the 1970s) – an alternative to nationalization and to ‘democratize the economy’, the government created several funds financed through a 20% profits tax on firms and a payroll tax, which would buy shares in Swedish companies with the aim of increasing employee/trade union control of the firms. The policy was highly controversial, with the right and employers attacking the plan – originally warning against a dangerous road to Eastern Bloc-style socialism; even many Social Democrats – perhaps including Palme – were not overly keen on the idea, which was finally abolished after the right won power in 1991.

Palme became widely recognized abroad for his ‘anti-imperialist’ views – he criticized US for its role in the Vietnam War; he was a staunch foe of the Franco regime in Spain, apartheid South Africa but also the Soviet Union (during the 1968 Prague Spring); he sided with controversial left-wing leaders including Chile’s Salvador Allende and Cuba’s Fidel Castro but also the FMLN and FSLN rebels in El Salvador and Nicaragua. However, a lot of his views were merely rhetorical flourish because Sweden remained a close NATO and US ally, notably for military purposes, during Palme’s tenure.

After returning to power in 1982 after two terms in opposition, Palme was reelected in 1985 but he was assassinated in circumstances which remain unclear to this day in 1986. He was replaced by Ingvar Carlsson, who began slowly liberalizing Sweden’s economy – in 1985, the credit market was deregulated (allowing banks to loan unlimited amounts to consumers) and in 1990 the government passed a landmark tax reform which lowered marginal income tax rates (people earning less than SEK185,000 would only pay municipal income tax) and broadened the tax base (by separating capital income from labour income, taxing fringe benefits and broadening indirect taxes such as the VAT). In the 1970s, the top marginal tax rates stood at about 80-85%; since 1991, it is around 55%. After Palme’s death, the party became increasingly split on the question of economic policy – with Carlsson’s finance minister Kjell-Olof Feldt and the party’s right favouring market economics (deregulation) and ‘Third Way’ politics while the left and LO supported traditional left-wing economics.

The SAP was defeated in 1991, but thanks to the right-wing government’s unpopularity, roared back with an impressive result in 1994. The party retained power until 2006, with Ingvar Carlsson (1994-1996) and Göran Persson. The Social Democrats returned to government as Sweden was just coming out of a major economic crisis in the early 1990s, which meant that Carlsson and Persson’s cabinets were far less activist and expansionary than previous governments (Persson is famous for his phrase ‘one who is in debt is not free’). In 1997, Sweden adopted a top-down budgetary process which has the Riksdag approve an expenditure ceiling before it decides where the money is to be spent. They implemented a number of cutbacks to welfare policies, which caused some strains in the party’s relations with the LO. However, the country’s economic situation improved steadily after the early 1990s crisis, with the government managing to reduce the debt and posting seven budget surpluses between 1998 and 2006. Economic growth stood above the EU average, and unemployment fell back from the crisis peaks although it was picking up again when the Social Democrats fell from power in 2006. Thanks to economic reforms and the general liberalization of the Swedish economy in the 1990s (with tax and pension reforms, which notably reduced corporate taxation), the ‘Swedish model’ and its famous welfare state adapted well to the new economic conditions of the late 20th century and early 21st century.

Persson was defeated in 2006, hit by voter fatigue after over 10 years in power. The lack of renewal in the top echelons of the party also hurt the party – after the 2003 assassination of popular and talented foreign minister Anna Lindh, who was considered as a top leadership contender – and would continue to hurt them in opposition. Persson was replaced by Mona Sahlin, a mediocre career politician who had seen her accession to the Prime Minister’s office (she was the early favourite to replace Carlsson) blocked in 1995 by an expense scandal (she used her government credit card for private expenses). She had been the last standing candidate after a number of A-list candidates declined, most notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström.

The Social Democrats, although they have only twice won an absolute majority, they have only rarely governed in coalition – excepting a wartime coalition with the bourgeois parties, the Social Democrats have only governed once in coalition, with the Agrarians from 1936 to 1945 and 1951 to 1957. At all other times, Social Democratic governments have been minority governments which could count on parliamentary support from the Communists/Left Party and, since the 1990s, the Greens. The Greens and Social Democrats grew closer under Persson’s government, but they remained outside his cabinets. In December 2008, however, Mona Sahlin announced a formal alliance – the Red-Greens (De rödgröna) with the Greens and the Left; it sought to copy the centre-right government’s successful Alliance and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition government (led by the Labour Party with the agrarian Centre Party and the Socialist Left).

Initially popular in the polls, Sahlin and the Red-Greens crumbled under closer scrutiny in early 2010. The campaign – in which SAP promoted themes such as the defense of the welfare state and more investments in education and health – went poorly, with the SAP’s cooperation the ex-communist Left Party scaring off centrist voters and Sahlin’s poor leadership turning off other voters. In September 2010, the left lost and S won 30.7%, its worst result since 1914.

Mona Sahlin’s successor proved to be no better for the party. Håkan Juholt, who was chosen as the new SAP leader in one of their famously cryptic leadership selections, was once again the last standing candidate after a number of other candidates had declined and few inspiring names came to the fore. Juholt was considered a ‘defense expert’ in the party and was somewhat charismatic and folksy, but he was definitely out of his depth on many issues (including foreign policy and defense questions, his supposed area of expertise). He was brought down in January 2012 following a scandal concerning an allowance he received from the Riksdag to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it). Desperate for a moderate and sensible leader who would boost the party, the party’s bosses turned to Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union (IF Metall) in the LO, who himself comes from a working-class background in northern Sweden. He was not a member of the Riksdag prior to the 2014 election, and has no previous political/ministerial experience. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.

Ideologically, the modern Social Democrats have often struggled to capture voters’ imaginations with innovative projects or policies, and has instead often focused on its traditional profile as the ‘defender of the welfare state’. In this election, the party promised a ‘better Sweden for all’ and focused on employment, education and the welfare state – the top issues in voters’ minds this year. The Social Democrats have attacked the centre-right government for prioritizing tax cuts over welfare and jobs, and argued that many people risk getting stuck in a ‘poverty trap’ with unskilled, low-wage jobs or unable to find a job altogether (therefore risking social exclusion).

Sweden’s unemployment rate of 8% is below the EU-28 average (but is considered to be high in Sweden), but it has a high youth unemployment rate – 23% of Swedes under the age of 25 are unemployed, compared to 22% in the EU-28. Unsurprisingly, the Social Democrats targeted their election manifesto to youth employment issues and promised that Sweden would have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU by 2020. One of its key promises was the ’90-day guarantee’ – within 90 days, young jobseekers would be matched with a job, training leading to a job or an internship. As part of this policy, the party said that it would invest SEK6 billion in 50,000 new jobs and internships and provide training opportunities for young jobseekers without qualifications. The Alliance claimed that the SAP’s 90-day guarantee is actually a continuation of its own ‘Phase 3′ in its labour market policy introduced in 2007 (the Jobs and Development Guarantee, JOB), which offers an unpaid activity to the long-term unemployed (companies are paid by the government in exchange for taking on these non-conventional workers); the policy has been criticized by the left because participants were given tasks that were not otherwise performed and training/education is not generally permitted except under specific conditions. The Social Democrats want to scrap Phase 3, which they think is ineffective and degrading.

In addition, the Social Democrats proposed to focus the Public Employment Service’s task on active individual support for jobseekers; creating more places in post-secondary education; investing in vocational training and adult education; helping employers by cutting their costs and designing a new industrial policy; increase unemployment benefits so that people can earn 80% of their salary for the duration of their unemployment (under current legislation, the benefit is gradually cut the longer people are unemployed for); limit the use of fixed-term contracts (a maximum of two years within a 5-year period); make full-time jobs the norm; fight social dumping by imposing Swedish collective agreements to all employed in Sweden (this relates to the controversial Laval case in the ECJ); strengthen Swedish exports (it supports the EU-US FTA/TTIP); improving the business environment to boost international competitiveness and innovation. All in all, a fairly centrist and moderate platform on economic issue, focused heavily on jobs.

On tax policy, the Social Democrats said they prioritized the welfare state and investments in jobs over tax cuts and attacked the Alliance for its tax cuts at the expense of jobs. It said that it would not raise income taxes for most people, eliminate the tax gap between pensioners and workers and keep the Alliance’s earned income tax credit for those earning less than SEK60,000, but it would also eliminate ineffective tax cuts and raise taxes on banks to raise 4 billion kronor to fund early childhood education.

Education was the second major priority for the SAP. Sweden has a good education system, but it has really fallen off in recent international rankings, particularly the latest PISA ranking (2012) in which Sweden’s score dropped sharply in all three subjects (math, science and reading) – ranked 38th in math and science and 36th in reading, the worst result for the Scandinavian countries and below the OECD average. Löfven called the PISA results a ‘national crisis’. The party promised to reduce class sizes (by 5 in large primary school classes); train and hire more special ed teachers and learning specialists; improve teachers’ conditions; raise standards in teachers’ education; compulsory education until age 18 (currently 16); focus more on research and innovation; expand access to pre-schools (with small class sizes); offer free homework help to all primary school students; invest in 28,500 new post-secondary places; mandatory summer school for students who fail and increase the number of female professors. Overall, it would invest 15 billion kronor a year in education, which would be invested in cutting class sizes and improving teachers’ conditions. The Social Democrats are not against private schools, but they want tighter monitoring of quality and stop the ‘chase for profits’ in these schools and to allow municipalities to decide whether or not they want private schools. SAP rhetoric tied its education priorities – smaller classes, better teaching conditions, expanding vocational/adult education, focus on results – to its economic goal of reducing unemployment to the lowest level in the EU by 2020.

The welfare state, a traditional concern for the SAP, was the third major party priority in the campaign. The Social Democrats promised to raise child benefits and student support grants; ensure the construction of 250,000 new homes by 2020 by providing financial support to municipalities and other tax incentives; increasing the mandatory parental leave for both spouses to three months (currently, both spouses must take 60 days out of the maximum 480 days of paid parental leave – Scandinavian countries require that the other spouse/father take a minimum period of parental leave to increase gender equality, a highly controversial and politically contentious issue); invest in childcare so that municipalities must offer it on evenings and weekends; remove the tax gap between pensioners and wage earners; investing in healthcare to hire more staff and reduce paperwork; enhance the welfare state in general with a focus on efficiency and quality assurance and create youth jobs in elderly and disabled care. ‘Profit in welfare’ has become a major issue in Sweden recently, one on which most Swedes side with the left; SAP fell short of calling for a ban on profit-seeking in welfare provision, but called for national quality laws to set the rules for private providers in welfare with increased regulations (such as staffing requirements, so that private providers don’t try to make a quick buck by cutting down on staff) and transparency.

The Social Democrats are traditionally fairly pro-immigration and asylum; its platform demanded shared responsibility between EU countries for the reception of refugees, but also tighter rules for labour migration. In 2011, however, the controversial former SAP mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu (1994-2013) proposed ‘conditional’ citizenship for new immigrants, setting up a probationary period where these newly-naturalized ‘citizens’ could still be stripped of their citizenship and deported; this proposal received the support of the SAP chairman of the Riksdag justice committee, but both men were later disavowed by then-SAP leader Håkan Juholt. On foreign policy, the Social Democrats support Swedish nonalignment, its long-standing commitment to international development assistance, its focus on human rights and disarmament and are generally pro-EU (the majority of the party leadership, including then-Prime Minister Persson and then-foreign minister Anna Lindh supported the Euro in the Euro referendum in 2003). The party’s platform called for reintroducing compulsory conscription for all men and women over 18, abolished in 2010.

Environmental issues are important for the party, but not a top priority; its platform talked about reducing GHG emissions by 40% by 2020 (vs. 1990 levels) to free Sweden of fossil fuels by 2050, SEK1 billion investments in environmental initiatives, ban or tax dangerous chemicals, gradually phasing out nuclear power (but saying it will continue to be a mainstay for long years to come still) and a bonus for cars with a low carbon footprint.

The Green Party (Miljöpartiet de Gröna – literally ‘Environment Party The Greens’, Mp) is Sweden’s green party, located on the left of the political spectrum. The Greens were founded in 1981, right in the aftermath of the power on nuclear debate and a March 1980 referendum on the future of nuclear power (the pro-nuclear option narrowly won). The Greens won 1.7% and 1.5% in the 1982 and 1985 elections, but they entered the Riksdag for the first time in 1988, with 5.5% of the vote. The Greens lost support in 1991 and, with only 3.4%, were not reelected to the Riksdag – but they returned to the Riksdag in 1994, and have stayed there ever since. Between 1994 and 2010, the Greens polled about 4-5% in general elections; in 2010, they won their best result with 7.3%. The Greens, however, have been quite successful in EP elections – in the first EP election in the country in 1995, the Greens won 17.2% and, in June 2014, the Greens placed second in the EP election with 15.4% of the vote.

The Greens have usually been aligned with the centre-left. Between 1998 and 2006, the Greens supported – without participating in – the Social Democratic governments of Göran Persson. In 2010, the Greens entered into a pre-electoral alliance with the Social Democrats; the original goal of that alliance had been for the Greens to bring to the broader centre-left fold some white-collar, well-educated ‘bourgeois’ voters who might feel queasy about S but who were willing to vote Mp. Instead, the result was that the Greens gained at the Social Democrats’ expense – the Greens’ female co-spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand was very popular, far more than S’ Mona Sahlin. While the Greens are a fairly loyal member of the centre-left bloc, there is often speculation at election time if the Greens would be ready to cross the aisle and back up a centre-right government. Swedish county and local politics operate on somewhat different bloc configurations, which means that the Greens – after 2010 – governed alongside the Alliance parties in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland county councils. Ahead of the 2014 elections, the Greens recognized SAP as their ‘natural partner’, but was critical of the ‘bloc politics’ – including the failed 2010 Red-Greens experiment and preached cooperation based on policies instead. At the same time as it said that, however, it also vowed to never become “a fifth Alliance party”. It also ruled out cooperation with the far-right.

The Greens’ 2014 manifesto is available online in English. The general tone of the party’s manifesto was rather anti-government, criticizing the Alliance’s record on the environment, social exclusion, education and the welfare state. Climate change and the environment were, unsurprisingly, the top issues for the Greens – whose long-term goal is to build an energy system which would be 100% from renewable sources. Promises included beginning the energy transition to 100% renewable (by 2030) by reducing the use of fossil fuels and closing down old nuclear reactors; doubling the share of public transportation in the transportation sector; improve and expand the rail system including high-speed rail lines; supporting investments in the production of biofuels and electric vehicles; a fee on polluting cars; introduce a new tax on trucks to move freight to trains/ships; ensuring that good organic food is provided in schools and retirement homes (a goal of 50% of organic food in public kitchens by 2020, and supporting vegetarian meals and locally-produced meats); banning dangerous chemicals; increasing the protection of biological diversity (more marine reserves, conservation of forests and woods); strengthening animal protection and increasing recycling. For the Greens, the issue of jobs could be closely tie to the environment – their policies there focused on creating new jobs through their environmental policies/investments, for example in railroads and eco-friendly neighbourhoods. Other job promises included helping youth job creation through municipal support centres and an expansion of vocational training/apprenticeships; reducing the burden of regulations on small businesses and lowering hiring costs for them by cutting payroll taxes and abolishing small businesses’ responsibility for sick leave; employing more people in welfare (education, healthcare, elderly care); expanding adult education; introducing a possibility to take a paid sabbatical; expanding the Alliance’s tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation to be used to renovate suburbs, apartments and buildings more eco-friendly and abolishing Phase 3.

Economically, therefore, the Greens want to raise taxes on polluters and to cut taxes for small businesses. Its 2014 manifesto proposed a ‘social economy’ with well-ordered public finances, a safer labour market (a more expansive and universal combined health and unemployment insurance), the possibility for 35-hour workweeks, possibilities for more leisure time, assurance that all ‘profits in welfare’ are reinvested and long-term investments which are more ethical and sustainable.

On education policies, the Greens resembled the Social Democrats. They promised a reduced bureaucratic burden on teachers to allow them more time for students; ensuring that student support is available in time; higher salaries for teachers; breaking school segregation (a vague call for all schools to be ‘equally good’, with more concrete proposals for needs-based student resources, education in students’ native language and bilingual education in other subjects); regulating private schools so that any profits are reinvested; investments in preschool sand after-school recreation centres; increasing the quality of post-secondary education; investments in modern teaching methods; renovating schools and setting up a commission to study and review the Swedish education system and its problems. The Greens also emphasize more rights for students, including more control over their education, and promote subjects such as anti-racism, gender pedagogy and norm criticism.

Equality is one of the cornerstones of the Greens’ ideology. They promised equal pay for equal work, breaking gender segregation in employment, splitting parental leave into three parts (one for each parents and one freely transferable including to a third person close to the child), fighting violence against women, quotas for women on the boards of stock market-listed companies, investments in school health (to fight mental health problems), laws against sexist advertising which perpetuate gender norms, improving sex ed, improving support to people who have faced abuse and a law on gender mainstreaming. In line with this, the Greens are the most pro-immigration party, enthusiastically supporting open borders (or a world without borders). Its manifesto endorsed a liberalization of asylum laws (an automatic right to a permanent residence permit if an asylum seeker hasn’t been deported within 2 years, facilitating family reunification, people born and permanently residing in Sweden should automatically obtain citizenship); better integration (easier access to housing and jobs for new arrivals) and fighting discrimination.

On healthcare, the Greens promised investments in more personalized and quality interaction between patients and care workers, more staff in elderly care and a focus on the issues of substance abuse and homelessness. Other miscellaneous promises included ‘greening’ the Million Programme suburbs, a massive increase in the construction of rental apartments, greater access to culture, legal protections for whistleblowers, devolution to regional-level governments, protection for crime victim and tackling crimes by addressing its social roots.

Traditionally, the Greens were anti-EU and strongly Eurosceptic. Only in 2008 did Green Party members vote against a party clause requiring a referendum on Sweden’s continued membership in the EU, and slowly shift in a more pro-EU but still quite EU-critical direction. It is critical of EU centralization, militarization, the Euro and the EU’s democratic deficit; it wants, in turn, a EU committed to equality, the environment and a more open migration policy (making it possible, for example, for asylum requests to be tested in more than one EU member). The Greens strongly support global justice, with a foreign policy promoting human rights (including LGBT equality), protection for the Arctic, phasing out Swedish weapons exports to dictatorships and more funding for international development.

The Liberal People’s Party (Folkpartiet liberalerna, Fp) is Sweden’s centre-right liberal party, the second largest party in the Alliance after the 2010 election. Although the party is widely referred to as the ‘Liberal Party’ in English, in Swedish it is usually referred to as the People’s Party (Folkpartiet), with the word liberalerna being a late and recent add-on to the party’s old name. The current party was founded in 1934, but the liberal partisan tradition dates back to the turn of the last century – an organized Liberal parliamentary party was founded in 1900, with a national partisan organization (the Frisinnade landsföreningen, or Free-minded national association) coming in 1902. The liberals in the 19th century were the main opponents of the conservatives; they supported free trade, universal suffrage and cuts in military spending.

The early liberal movement was very closely tied to the free churches – Protestant churches not linked to the state church (the Church of Sweden) – which grew in importance in the late nineteenth century, playing a large role in the temperance movement and the movements for democratic reforms. The liberals found common ground with the Social Democrats in the early twentieth century on basic political and social rights, chief among them universal suffrage, enacted by Nils Edén’s Liberal-SAP coalition (1917-1920); but the party thereafter steadily lost support (falling from 40% in 1911 and 28% in 1917 to about 10-13% between 1924 and 1944) and moved towards the right. The liberals split in 1923 over the issue of alcohol prohibition (rejected in a referendum in 1922) – the pro-prohibition majority founded the Frisinnade folkpartiet (Free-minded People’s Party) while the anti-prohibition minority founded the splinter Sveriges liberala parti. The two parties reunified in 1934, to create the modern-day Fp.

In the 1920s, although they were only the third largest party in the Riksdag behind the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, the Liberals remained very powerful by holding the balance of power. Liberal leader Carl Gustaf Ekman originally tolerated the Social Democrats’ minority cabinets (under Hjalmar Branting from 1921 to 1923, 1924 to 1925 and Rickard Sandler from 1925 to 1926) and a conservative cabinet led by Arvid Lindman (1928-1930), but he pulled the plug on Branting and Sandler with the right’s support and on Lindman with the SAP’s support. Twice, between 1926 and 1928 and 1930 to 1932, Carl Gustaf Ekman served as Prime Minister himself – despite a weak base of support in the Riksdag, he retained power by skillfully playing the left and right against each other. Their influence, however, faded after 1932 as the Social Democrats established their hegemony.

Nevertheless, the Liberals replaced the conservatives as the main bourgeois alternative to the SAP between 1948 and 1968 (with the exception of 1958) and the Liberals polled 23-24% in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 elections. In this period (1944 to 1967), the Liberals were led by economics professors and future Nobel laureate Bertil Ohlin, perhaps better known to some for his 1930s academic work on comparative advantage and international trade (the Heckscher–Ohlin model and theorem); Ohlin, a social liberal, advocated for a free market economy with little government intervention and opposed the Social Democrats’ economic policies, but he was not totally hostile to some form of welfare state. Liberal support declined progressively in the 1960s and 1970s, falling to only 9% in 1973, 11% in 1976-1979 and 6% in 1982. Ohlin’s profile as a liberal economist fits with the Fp – to this day, the Fp remains seen as a liberal, intellectual elitist party.

The Liberals, led by Per Ahlmark, joined Thorbjorn Fälldin’s bourgeois government in 1976, but after the coalition fell in October 1978 due to differences between coalition partners on the issue of nuclear power, the Liberals formed a minority government led by Ola Ullsten. Although the Fp had won only 11% in the 1976 election, they were able to form a single-party minority coalition (which represented only 11% or so of the Riksdag) by briefly enjoying the benefits of the old balance of power strategy. The Social Democrats and the Centre Party tolerated the Ullsten Fp cabinet by abstaining. The government lasted until the 1979 elections, which returned another bourgeois party. Thorbjorn Fälldin regained office with a three-party bourgeois coalition, in which the Fp stayed until the end – the SAP’s victory in 1982.

Under Bengt Westerberg, the Liberals enjoyed a surge in support in the 1985 election (winning 14%), thanks to Westerberg’s appeal in that election. Under his leadership, the Liberals shifted more towards economic liberalism, fighting for lower taxes and private options in healthcare. However, after the brief success in 1985, Fp support fell back further – falling to 9% in 1991 (when the Fp joined Carl Bildt’s bourgeois coalition government), 7% in 1994 and a low of 4.7% in 1998.

Lars Leijonborg, the Fp leader between 1997 and 2007, led his party to a very strong result in the 2002 election (13%) thanks to M’s collapse and a controversial proposal to introduce mandatory Swedish language tests for foreigners seeking naturalization. In 2006, after the Social Democrats accused Fp operatives of breaking into their computer systems, the Liberals suffered significant loses – winning 7.5% of the vote.

Since 2006, the Liberals have been junior partners in Reinfeldt’s Alliance government. The party’s leader since 2007 is Jan Björklund, the Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister under Reinfeldt. Fp held the ministerial positions in the education portfolio (which, after 2010, grew to include gender equality) as well as the EU Affairs portfolio.

Ideologically, the Fp have – like other liberal parties in the EU – been divided between social liberalism and neoliberalism/conservative liberalism, or between emphasis on civil liberties/individual freedom and economic liberalism. The ideological influence of the free churches and frisinnet (free-thinking) factions have declined since the 1970s. Currently, under Björklund, the Liberals seem to stand somewhere in between left-liberalism and right-liberalism, with the Fp platform designed to please both sides. The Fp’s main niche issues include education, feminism and enthusiastic Eurofederalism.

Education has been one of the Liberals’ main areas of expertise and focus. As Minister of Education since 2007, Jan Björklund led the introduction of new curricula (Lgr 11 for the lower grades, and Gy 2011 for upper secondary schools) – these reforms included a new A-F grading scale beginning in Grade 6 (the left in Sweden typically supports bringing in academic grading only in later grades and is generally not too keen on the US-style A-F grading scale), introduction of teacher certification (for schools and primary/nursery school teachers on permanent contracts), tougher eligibility requirements for upper secondary school, history as a compulsory subject in upper secondary schools and reduced student choice (electives). The Liberals claim that these reforms are necessary to improve Sweden’s education system, do away with the Social Democrats’ old education policies and improve student achievement in school. The Fp’s additional demands for education in their 2014 manifesto included the nationalization of schools (that means that the state, not the municipalities, should run public education), more order and discipline in schools (to fight bullying), earlier assessments (grading from Grade 4), ensuring that all students leave primary school with basic skills (knowing how to read, write and count), support to students (summer school and homework help) and better pay for teachers. The Liberals support private schools, and opposed a ‘municipal veto’ on the establishment of new private schools.

Gender equality and feminism have also become important niche issues for the Liberals – one of their 2014 slogans was ‘feminism without socialism’. It promised a more equitable division of parental leave by earmarking a third reserved month for each parent (an issue shared with the left; the Fp claims credit for first introducing the idea of a reserved ‘daddy month’), abolishing child-raising tax credits (here it disagrees with its Alliance partners), investments in female-dominated occupations (nurses, midwives, preschool teachers), eliminate wage gaps between men and women, stop violence against women (long-term financing for women’s shelters and tougher penalties for men who committed crimes against women), more women on publicly-owned companies’ boards and promoting gender equality in schools.

The Fp has liberal positions on economic and social (welfare state) issues, supporting limited government and low taxes. It argues for a tax reform which would broaden the tax base and cut taxes on labour (and abolishing the 5% tax surcharge on high incomes). The party manifesto proposed workplace paid apprenticeships for high school students; modernizing labour law (employee dismissal priority rules should be based on competence rather than seniority, a longer probationary period for young workers) with the aim of moving towards the Danish model of flexicurity; higher unemployment benefits (based on sick pay levels for the first 100 days, replacing the work conditions to get fund benefits with income-based conditions) and moving towards a universal state-controlled unemployment insurance; defending the Alliance’s reforms (citing the tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation, the VAT reduced rate for restaurants and payroll tax reductions for those who hire young employees); opportunity for elderly people to continue their professional careers and less regulations and hassles in the construction sector. The Liberals strongly support ‘profit in welfare’ – defending it as an essential part of freedom of choice, which they say also helps gender equality (makes it easier to change employers) – with the quality standards to apply equally to both public and private providers.

The Liberals have returned to being strongly pro-immigration now, defending the right to asylum and an ‘open and tolerant’ society fighting racism and xenophobia. It proposed better integration by expanding Swedish language education for migrants; making basic knowledge of Swedish and civic education mandatory for Swedish citizenship; quicker integration into the labour market; an open refugee policy; an open labour migration policy and overcoming exclusion in poor immigrant neighborhoods.

The Fp sees itself as a green liberal party, defending inter-governmental cooperation and market solutions to climate change. The Fp’s manifesto called for a carbon tax and ETS, energy efficiency (including continued use and expansion of nuclear power), renewable energy sources (windpower and hydropower), climate-smart transport and a leading role in global climate change initiatives

The Liberals sell themselves as Sweden’s most pro-European party – it is an enthusiastic supporter of the EU, which it argues helps solve cross-border problems, promotes freedom and democracy and facilitates economic development. It called for deeper integration including oversight of human rights in member states, a more ambitious climate policy, supporting the EU internal market, supporting the EU-USA FTA, safeguarding the freedom of movement and deeper foreign policy integration. Although it is not an issue, the Fp supports holding another referendum on Euro membership (where they would support, obviously, the Euro). On foreign policy, the Fp is also known for supporting NATO membership, its strong pro-Israeli positions (the SAP is usually fairly pro-Palestinian), its pro-defense positions (it supports raising military spending), generous development aid and its very enthusiastic support for free trade and knocking down trade barriers. In 2003, the Fp supported the US invasion of Iraq.

Other promises included more housing for the elderly; improving care facilities for the elderly; European cooperation against crime; locally-based policing; special attention to vulnerable children and free cultural expression. Despite its liberal orientation, the Fp has a strict prohibitionist policy on drugs, opposes euthanasia and has a tough policy on alcohol abuse/prevention.

The Centre Party (Centerpartiet, C) is a centre-right liberal party in the Nordic agrarian tradition. The party has moved away from its agrarian roots over time, especially in the last few years, and has reinvented itself – with mixed success – as a liberal party, with a particular focus on issues such as environmentalism and decentralization.

Founded in 1913 as the Bondeförbundet (Agrarian Association or Agrarians), the party’s ideological roots are similar to those of fellow agrarian rural parties in Finland and Norway, and are part of a fairly unique Northern European/Scandinavian pattern of early powerful farmers’ political mobilization due to their higher social status (than farmers in other continental European nations, especially in southern Europe) and more developed political participation. With these parties, it shares common values – support for private businesses, its rural concerns, decentralization, environmentalism and some degree of Euroscepticism. In its early years, the Agrarians polled about 10-14% (they remained in this range until 1968) of the vote, but they are not remembered for having played an important role in interwar Swedish politics in the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1933, one year after a large SAP victory in the elections, the Agrarians – with their base facing major economic challenges and unemployment with the Depression – agreed to support the SAP’s unemployment in exchange for higher tariffs on farm products (beef, pork, eggs etc) and higher prices on butter. During this era, the Agrarians were the most pro-Nazi of the major parties and had racist pro-eugenics positions.

The Agrarians supported the SAP, although they voted with the bourgeois bloc against a government pension policy in 1936, leading to the left-wing government’s resignation and a brief three-month Agrarian minority cabinet led by Agrarian leader Axel Pehrsson-Bramstorp. After the SAP won the 1936 elections, however, the Agrarians entered Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson’s government, where they would remain until 1945. In 1951, the Agrarians rejoined the government, where they would stay until 1957. While in government, the Agrarians were accused by the right-wing parties of unabashedly promoting their bases’ interests through niche policies to enrich farmers. In 1957, because of disagreements on the pension debate, the party left government but it would not for that matter agree to support a bourgeois cabinet (which had a theoretical majority if it had Agrarian support).

Taking early heed of demographic and social changes, the Agrarians changed their name to the Centre Party in 1957 to broaden their base. Gunnar Hedlund, C’s leader from 1949 to 1971, moved the party towards centrism (with an emphasis on decentralization and environmentalism) and aligned himself with the Liberals beginning in the 1960 election. His increasingly strong opposition to the SAP paid off with good results at the polls – in 1968, it won 15.7% and became the largest centre-right party and further increased its support to nearly 20% in 1970. Thorbjörn Fälldin became C’s leader in 1971, and became known for his vocal opposition to nuclear power – which was one of the main issues of political debate from the early 1970s to 1980 in Sweden. In 1973, the Centrists won 25% of the vote, their highest result. In 1976, although C support fell to 24%, the three bourgeois parties (C-M-Fp) had a majority in the Riksdag and Thorbjörn Fälldin was appointed to form a three-party coalition government.

Fälldin quickly realized that the bourgeois parties were deeply divided on the key issue at stake – nuclear power – because while C wanted to halt nuclear expansion until the issue of waste was resolved, both M and Fp were very much in favour of nuclear power expansion. His government also dealt with a tough economic situation, implemented austerity policies, devalued the krona, cut marginal tax rates somewhat and led an active labour market policy which prevented mass unemployment. On nuclear power, C had compromised with its allies and agreed to a law which conditioned the commissioning of new power plants to plans on waste reprocessing and fuel storage, but the issue continued to divide coalition partners and the government finally fell in October 1978 due to disagreements on nuclear power. In 1979, with Fälldin having been criticized by C members and leadership for his compromises with M/Fp on nuclear power (pro-nuclear SAP leader Olof Palme added to the question by accusing Fälldin of betraying his 1976 election pledge to not be in a government which commissioned a nuclear power plant), C’s support fell to 18% and M overtook C as the largest bourgeois party. Fälldin nevertheless returned to power, with a C-M-Fp cabinet. The nuclear issue was defused by a referendum in 1980, in which C’s anti-nuclear (cease expansion and close existing plants within 10 years) option narrowly lost with 38.7% against 39.1% for the SAP/Fp’s pro-nuclear option (phase out of nuclear power by 2010, reduction of energy consumption, no expansion, state control of nuclear power plants and 100% taxation of any profits); M’s pro-nuclear option (which differed from the main one on the matter of state ownership and taxation) won 18.9%. Government austerity policies against the economic crisis were unpopular, especially as their effects were limited. In 1981, C and Fp worked with the SAP on a marginal tax rate reduction without M’s participation, leading M to leave the government. The poor economy, partisan disputes, rising unemployment and unpopular policies took their toll on the government’s popularity, which lost reelection in 1982 and saw C’s support fall to 15.5%. In 1985, C support fell to 12% and Fälldin was forced to resign as C leader.

Centre Party support continued to decline in the 1980s and 1990s, falling below 10% in 1991 (8.5%) and hitting a low of barely 5% in 1998. Although C was a member of Bildt’s bourgeois coalition from 1991 to 1994 (although C’s leader resigned from cabinet to protest the green light given the construction of the Öresund Bridge to Denmark), from 1994 to 1998, C provided external support to Göran Persson’s SAP government. Under Maud Olofsson, C realigned with the bourgeois bloc and, in 2002, saw its first uptick in support since the 1973 election (6%) and further increased its vote to 7.9% in 2006 as part of the Alliance. In 2010, however, C’s support fell to 6.6%.

Under Maud Olofsson, the party clearly moved back towards the right of the spectrum, and it has also moderated on nuclear energy – while in the 1990s and early 2000s it cooperated with the SAP to close two nuclear power plants, C now sees nuclear power as a stable source of energy (until a preferable alternative is found). In 2010, C – along with the other Alliance parties – voted in favour of lifting the moratorium/phase-out on nuclear energy (from the 1980 referendum) by allowing new reactors to be built to replace old ones. In addition, influenced by an idea that C can only survive if it builds a base with young urban voters, C has moved towards libertarian/liberal positions. In 2011, Olofsson was replaced as C leader by the 31-year old Annie Lööf. Like Olofsson before her, she served as Minister for Enterprise under the Reinfeldt cabinet while C held the agriculture, environment and enterprise/energy/communications portfolios. In 2012-2013, C went through very tough times as an attempt to push the party in a full-blown libertarian position backfired and led to internal divisions over the party’s direction. Its support fell below the 4% threshold in many polls. Olofsson faced controversy for the Vattenfall/Nuon scandal and Lööf was caught in a small expenses scandal.

C defines itself as liberal, environmentalist, decentralist and supports individual freedoms and a limited government. Its jobs policy is heavily focused on small businesses and ‘entrepreneurs’. It proposed a flexible labour market (with dismissal based on competence, not seniority); more mobility in the labour market; lowering payroll taxes to make it cheaper to take on young workers; lowering taxes for small businesses with higher taxes on polluters; workplace apprenticeships; less state intervention in labour relations (instead it favours negotiations between social partners); simplifying red tape for small businesses; facilitating start-ups  and a ‘vibrant countryside’ with green industries. C favours low taxes (with green taxes to compensate for lower taxes on labour and businesses) but it further emphasizes ‘decentralized taxation’ in which regions and municipalities have more powers over taxes and to keep the revenues from property taxes (with a new municipal equalization system). It did not make any concrete promises in 2014, but C wants to further cut income tax for lower and middle-income households. The Centre Party remains supportive of the welfare state – like other Alliance parties, it favours more autonomy for teachers, better conditions for teachers, better teacher training, expanding adult education, discipline in schools, support for students in difficulty and supports private schools. In line with its liberal values, C strongly supports freedom of choice in welfare and emphasizes more individual freedom in choosing healthcare (but also elder care), by increasing competition further or by allowing nurses to start their own practices.

C is an environmentalist party, which wants Sweden to be carbon-neutral by 2050. The party proposed to compel the EU to adopt tougher binding emissions target for 2030; strengthening the European emissions trading scheme; work with other countries in the region to clean up the Baltic Sea; protect 10% of coastal and marine areas; continue to expand renewable energy production; strengthening environmental legislation with higher fines for those committing environmental crimes; expanding public transportation; facilitating ownership of environmentally-friendly cars powered by renewable sources (clean vehicle premiums, bonus-malus); ensuring a non-toxic environment and eliminating hazardous chemicals; encouraging local and sustainable food production (with clear and consistent labeling); ensuring that governments are eco-friendly; allowing landowners to have more of a say in protecting biodiversity and giving municipalities more power on climate policies (a reminder of C’s pro-decentralization views). On nuclear power, C merely envisions ‘within a generation’ to have a society free of nuclear power and driven entirely by renewable energy, and not building any new reactors.

The Centre Party is strongly pro-immigration, dreaming of a world with open borders and global freedom of movement. It called on Sweden to accept more refugees and foreign workers (labour migration), more cooperation in the EU for a humane refugee policy, shortening the residency requirements for naturalization, a more flexible labour market to allow immigrants to find jobs quicker, liberalizing conditions to obtain a work permit and liberalizing rules on family immigration.

C is traditionally Eurosceptic, although nowadays it supports EU membership as a fait accompli. It is fond of the catchphrase ‘a leaner yet sharper Europe’ – meaning a EU which focuses on a few key pan-national issues, without ‘micromanagement’ and supranationalism. It is strongly against the Euro.

The Centre Party’s positions on other issues included more police officers to increase security, tougher sentences for serious crimes, protecting privacy rights, encouraging people to move from welfare to work, making it easier for disabled people to join the labour market, reducing the pay gap between men and women (C also identifies as a liberal feminist party) and raising parental benefits.

The Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, KD) are the smallest Alliance party – and also the youngest one. The party was founded in 1964. Ideologically, it claims to be from the continental Christian democratic tradition – although the Scandinavian Christian democrats emerged from a very different context and very different religious movements than the more famous Christian democratic parties on the continent.

The Swedish Christian Democrats were formed in the 1960s in reaction to a government decision to remove religious education from the elementary school curriculum, a controversial decision which mobilized religious Christian public opinion (although ultimately unsuccessfully). More generally, the party’s founders were worried about the direction of Swedish society in the tumultuous 1960s – they saw a decaying society heading towards ‘atheist materialism’. This Christian conservative movement was largely tied to the free churches (Lewi Pethrus, the KD’s founding father, was a Pentecostal minister), and the KD have remained closely identified with the free churches. The party was founded in 1964 as the Christian Democratic Coalition (Kristen Demokratisk Samling, KDS). The Christian Democrats remained a very minor party for about twenty years – between 1964 and 1985, the KDS’ support remained between 1.4% and 1.9% in every election. In 1973, Alf Svensson was elected KDS leader, a position he would retain for over 30 years until his retirement in 2004. In the 1970s, the Christian Democrats refused to be placed in the left-right divide – a cleavage which it dismissed as archaic. Beginning in 1982, however, the Christian Democrats have been aligned with the bourgeois bloc.

In the 1980s, the KDS moderated its positions on moral issues (abortion) and shifted emphasis towards family policies. In 1985, the KDS formed an electoral alliance (a common list) with C, with the goal of bringing KDS into the Riksdag and ensuring that no bourgeois votes were ‘wasted’ by going to a party which fell below the threshold. The C-KDS cartel won 12.4% of the vote, and Svensson was elected to the Riksdag (he was the only KDS candidate on the list to win) – as far as KDS was concerned, the result was something of a success if only because they got their leader elected, but the result was widely considered as a disaster for C (which had won, without KDS, 15.5% in 1982) and forced C leader Thorbjörn Fälldin’s resignation. In 1988, without an electoral alliance, the KDS won only 2.9% and fell out of the Riksdag. However, his short stint in the Riksdag had boosted Svensson’s name recognition and popularity.

The KDS’ breakthrough came in 1991, when the party – on its own this time – won 7.1% and 26 seats. In the Bildt coalition government, their main achievement was the late passage of the controversial child-raising tax credits (the right argues that these tax credits give parents the freedom to choose how to raise their young children – including by allowing mothers to stay at home to take care of them; it is criticized by feminists as as ‘women’s trap’ which reinforces gender roles such as women’s ‘housewife role’), which was quickly repealed by the left in 1994. In 1994, KDS narrowly saved their seats, falling to 4.1%; in 1998, however, thanks to Svensson’s popularity, KD (as the party was renamed in 1996) won 11.8%, its best result to date. In 2002, the KDs won 9.1%. Svensson stepped down as KD leader in 2004, although he was elected to the EP in 2009. His successor, and the current KD leader, is Göran Hägglund, who was Minister of Health and Social Affairs under Reinfeldt. KD also held the elderly/children welfare and public administration/housing portfolios. Their main achievements in cabinet include pushing for the abolition of the property tax and the introduction of municipal child-raising tax credits. The party has really struggled under Hägglund, facing internal divisions and lacking any clear niche issues appealing to voters. In 2006, KD won 6.6% and in 2010 it fell back further to 5.6%.

Ideologically, the Christian Democrats – unlike the more socially conservative Christian democrats in Norway or Finland – do not care much about hot-button moral issues (abortion, same-sex marriage), although KD was the only party to vote against same-sex marriage in 2009 (instead, though, they proposed to completely separate civil and religious marriage and get the state out of marriage) and instead their focus is on family issues – children, care for the elderly. They may be seen as ‘compassionate conservatives’ and Christian principles such as subsidiarity, stewardship and families as the basis of society remain important for them. However, they have fairly generic right-of-centre economic positions; in fact, the KD youth wing seems to be pushing for the party to move even further to the right on economic issues. The party’s moderation on moral issues has also come under fire from a minority of religious conservatives in KD ranks, who would like for the party to be controversial and take on pro-life stances.

The current KD position on abortion is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortion by offering more counselling and support to women seeking abortions. It also supports separating religious marriage ceremonies from legal state marriage, with a gender-neutral civil registration instead. KD opposes euthanasia, supports prohibitionist drug laws and restrictive alcohol policies; it also endorses strict anti-discrimination laws which cover sexual orientation (KD recently expanded the law to cover accessibility/disability) and has a general humanist ideology which affirms each human’s worth as unique and irreplaceable. Families, in Christian democratic tradition, remain important for the party – it supports raising the benefit level during parental leave, introducing a pregnancy allowance of 20ish days, improving the child-raising tax credits, expanding childcare vouchers (so that parents who raise their children at home can benefit from it too), more affordable family counselling, preschools focused on children and smaller class sizes in preschools. Seniors and elder care are also an important issue for KD, who want to allow seniors to live at home longer if they want to, dignified treatment and safe housing. In general, freedom of choice in welfare is highly important for KD, who strongly support private schools and private healthcare options.

The Christian Democrats have, as noted above, fairly generic centre-right economic positions: low taxes on low and middle-income earners and pensioners, low corporate taxation, more flexible labour legislation, free trade, entrepreneurship, support for NGOs and non-profits, simplifying bureaucracy, more private ownership and lower employer contributions for small businesses. It still endorses, however, a social market economy and it is very supportive of a generous welfare state and benefits. On crime, climate change, education, healthcare or immigration, KD’s stances are more or less those of the Alliance as a whole. They too, for example, are strongly pro-immigration and want to reduce the difficulty of labour migration, family reunification and asylum. On the EU, KD seems quite happy with Sweden’s current role on the periphery of the EU, outside of the Eurozone and not overly affected by the Eurozone debt crisis.

The Left Party (Vänsterpartiet, V) is a socialist and feminist party (it is also republican, but that’s irrelevant), the most left-wing party in Sweden. V adopted its current name in 1990, but the party is the direct successor of the Communist Party founded in 1917. The party’s communist roots and, for some, persistent sympathy for communism and/or communist dictatorships remain a highly contentious issue which has consistently excluded V from formal government participation nationally.

The SAP split in 1917 between a reformist majority and a revolutionary minority, which was expelled from the party by reformist leader Hjalmar Branting. The revolutionary dissidents founded the Swedish Social Democratic Left Party (SSV) in May 1917, which became one of the founding members of the Comintern in 1919. In 1921, the party was renamed the Swedish Communist Party (SKP) and embraced the 21 Conditions of the Comintern. In its early years, the SKP was debilitated by many of the same issues which hit other new communist parties in Europe – purges of dissidents (members who opposed Comintern membership, those who opposed the 21 Conditions, those who refused to blindly adhere to the Kremlin’s whims) and founding members leaving in protest with the SKP’s direction (in 1924, Zeth Höglund, a founding member and anti-militarist leftist, left the party and later rejoined the SAP). In 1929, prominent members Karl Kilbom and Nils Flyg were expelled on Moscow’s orders, and they later created the Socialist Party (SP), the remnants of which would become a pro-Nazi party during World War II. In the interwar years, the SKP saw its support gradually decline from 8% in 1917 to only 3.5% in 1940.

The SKP was isolated during World War II – it was the only Swedish party to back the Soviet Union in the Winter War against Finland, it endorsed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, they were the only parliamentary party which did not participate in Per Albin Hansson’s wartime national unity coalition, many communists were interned in labour camps, the party’s publications were effectively banned and the SKP faced constant police harassment. However, the Communists gained support as the war reached its end, benefiting from Soviet military successes. In 1944, the SKP won 10.3% of the vote and the party gained influence within many unions.

In the post-war era, the SKP initially remained loyal to Moscow but was far more conciliatory towards the SAP. However, the Social Democrats had little sympathy for them – Tage Erlander proclaimed that every trade union should be a battlefield against communists and during the Cold War the SAP placed many communists under surveillance. The beauty of the situation, however, was that the SAP could still depend on the SKP’s support in the Riksdag whenever they lacked allies to their right – the SKP provided parliamentary support to SAP governments from 1946 to 1951, 1960 to 1968, 1970 to 1976 and 1982 to 1991. The SKP could hardly afford to vote against a ‘labour government’.

The Communists changed with the leadership of CH Hermansson (1964-1975): although originally a pro-Kremlin apparatchik, he moved the party away from the Soviet line towards Eurocommunism and Nordic popular socialism. In 1967, after internal disputes, the SKP changed its name to Left Party Communists (Vänsterpartiet Kommunisterna, VPK). The VPK was the first party to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, although several old-timer communists within the VPK remained supportive of Moscow’s actions. The VPK’s shift caused a number of splits by hardliners: a Stalinist breakaway in 1956, a Maoist splinter in 1967 (KFML), a youth league Maoist splinter in 1970 (with the awesome name of ‘Marxist-Leninist Struggle League for the Communist Party of Sweden (m-l)’) and a pro-Soviet split in 1977 (APK, now SKP). Under Lars Werner (1975-1993), the VPK maintained friendly relations with ‘communist sister parties’ and the CPSU, all the while continuing the shift away from doctrinaire Kremlin communism. The SKP/VPK had low but loyal levels of support throughout the Cold War years – between 1952 and 1991, the communists won between 3% and 6% of the vote, always retaining a small foothold in the Riksdag and helping prop up SAP minorities when necessary (although it broke from the SAP on issues such as nuclear power in 1980 or the tax reforms, which the SAP passed with the centre-right).

With the fall of communism, the VPK was renamed Left Party (V) and dropped references to communism. Under the leadership of Gudrun Schyman (1993-2003), V moved away from its communist roots and embraced feminism, while also being quite successful at the polls as it attracted SAP voters who were unhappy with the Social Democrats’ moderation and shift towards more liberal economic policies. In 1994, V increased its support to 6.2%, a level of support unseen since 1948 and in 1998, after four years of moderate SAP rule, V won 12% of the vote, still its record high. Its support declined to 8.4% in 2002 as the SAP regained lost ground. V continued to provide external support to the SAP government between 1994 and 2006. In 2003, however, the so-called ‘innovators’ in V lost control to the ‘traditionalists’, and Lars Ohly – who called himself a communist until 2005 – became V leader. Ohly’s leadership was marred by controversies surrounding V’s past and present attitudes towards communism and socialist dictatorships (with a 2004 investigation by the SVT’s investigative journalism show Uppdrag granskning) and internal turmoil. In 2006, V support fell to 5.9%. In 2010, Ohly and V managed to work themselves into Sahlin’s Red-Green coalition, but V’s participation in the alliance sparked fears that Ohly ‘the communist’ would be a minister in a potential left-wing Sahlin cabinet. The party’s support fell to 5.6%.

The issue of V cabinet participation in a future SAP/SAP-Mp coalition remains a hot topic of debate. As it stands, V is the only radical left party in Scandinavia to never have participated in a coalition: Norway’s SV, Finland’s Left Alliance, Denmark’s SF and Iceland’s Red-Greens have all being in a coalition now. Jonas Sjöstedt replaced Ohly as V’s leader in 2012.

Like other radical left parties, V is a socialist, feminist and pacifist party which opposes the capitalist system in favour of an egalitarian socialist society free from class, gender and ethnic oppression. In 2014, one of V’s top issues – and its most popular policy plank – was ‘gains in welfare’. The party is the only Swedish party to favour a total ban on profit in the welfare sector. V argued that billions in taxpayer money were lost to profits for venture capital companies and other profit-seeking welfare providers, it reminded voters of the ‘horror stories’ of cases of profit-seeking welfare providers cutting on staff and services to elderly patients or preschool kids to make a quick buck and proposed to pass a law which would ban taxpayer money to go to for-profit companies (choice would be retained, but only with non-profit companies).

V also promised higher unemployment benefits (raising the minimum daily allowance to SEK410 and the 80% replacement rate would hold for the entire period of unemployment); making permanent jobs the norm by tightening conditions on the use of temp contracts and capping the length of temporary employment to 24 months; abolishing Phase 3; expanding the number of places in training programs; investing in more employees inhealthcare, education and elder care; investing in public utilities and infrastructure; investing in R&D in SMEs; increasing the compensation rate of sickness insurance (removing the time limit on benefits, increasing the replacement rate and the ceiling amount; abolishing the tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation; abolishing the private financial defined contribution pensions; state investment for the construction of eco-friendly rental apartments and supplementing the inflation target with an employment targets. V endorsed the SAP’s 90-day guarantee for youth unemployment and it called on the gradual abolition of the Alliance’s earned income tax credit, which it faults for reducing state revenues and only benefiting to those who work. Instead, V proposed slightly higher taxes on the rich. V is also quite environmentalist – anti-nuclear and pro-organic food.

On educational issues, V is usually very reticent of private schools and the voucher system, and favours investments in public schools. V proposed more university places, state responsibility for education, higher student aid, delaying the introduction of grades to Grade 9, investments to reduce the number of children in preschool classes and a universal child allowance without any means-testing.

V is a feminist party. It wants a state foundation supporting women’s shelters (providing SEK200 million/year), tougher rape laws by defining sex as voluntary and consensual, to reduce the income gap, equal pay for equal work with government leading the way, more full-time employment, shorter working-hours, access to childcare at inconvenient hours (evenings, weekends, nights), increased social assistance and it wants to mandate that all parental leave must be shared equally between both parents. V attaches a good deal of importance to anti-racism and is pro-immigration. It proposed to repeal the Dublin Regulation, provide basic rights to undocumented migrants (their children may attend school and they should have employment rights), shorter processing times, better integration but it called on tougher rules on employers for labour immigration to prevent ‘social dumping’.

The Left is strongly anti-Euro and generally Eurosceptic. On foreign and defense policy, V supports the reintroduction of conscription, the recognition of Palestine, high spending on international assistance and it is generally reticent towards free trade agreements because of unfair terms of trade and global inequalities.

The Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) are a far-right immigration party which won its first seats in the Riksdag in 2010.

The SDs were founded in 1988, as the successor to the Sweden Party, a far-right party founded two years earlier by the merger of two parties – parts of the xenophobic Progress Party and the racist movement Bevara Sverige Svenskt. In its early years, SD was a small movement largely made up of thuggish neo-Nazis, skinheads, Holocaust deniers and white supremacists – the party itself was never officially Nazi, but many of its early members and leaders had links to neo-Nazi or racist movements. Beginning in the mid-1990s, under new leadership, the SDs began their first attempt to clean up their act (notably by banning uniforms) and moderate ideologically (by rejecting Nazism). It moved closer to the European far-right, building links with France’s FN or the Austrian FPÖ, and radical members left the party in 2001 to found the racist and even more distasteful National Democrats.

In 2005, Jimmie Åkesson became SD leader and continued to modernize and sanitize the party – symbolically, for example, the SDs changed their logo in 2006 from a British NF torch to a flower, the anemone hepatica. In the 2006 election, with 2.9% the Sweden Democrats won their best result yet, but remained outside of the Riksdag. In 2010, the SDs won 5.7% of the vote and elected 20 members.

In 1991, a right-wing populist party with anti-immigration stances, New Democracy (ND), had entered the Riksdag with 6.7% and 25 seats. ND had been founded by an entrepreneur/TV host and a nobleman/industrialist, and it had a right-wing anti-government and anti-immigration populist platform which had some ephemeral appeal to protest voters. Although the Fp, C and KD had all publicly opposed ND by walking out of a TV debate to protest ND’s anti-immigration views, ND came to provide tacit support (by abstaining) to Carl Bildt’s bourgeois government between 1991 and 1994. In the Riksdag, ND quickly became a pathetic clown show, with infighting and incompetence. In 1994, ND collapsed and fell out of the public eye immediately thereafter. ND was the only far-right/anti-immigration populist party to win representation in the Riksdag until 2010.

Sweden has a large foreign-born population – in 2013, according to government statistics, 15.9% of Swedes (1.53 million) were born outside the country – and altogether, 28% of Swedes are either foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. The largest foreign-born population comes from Finland – they are one of the oldest migrant groups in Sweden, given that Sweden has always attracted Finnish and Swedish-speaking Finnish immigrants. The past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the former Yugoslavia (particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns). The integration of non-European immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects (many from the days of the Million Programme) in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The difficult social conditions in these immigrant-heavy suburbs have led to riots in the last few years – most recently in May 2013, when riots broke out in the Stockholm suburb of Husby and during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). The far-right claimed that the riots proved the failure of Swedish multiculturalism, while others instead blamed the riots on the growing income inequality in Sweden.

The Sweden Democrats have tried hard to improve their public image, notably by repeatedly denying that they are racist and the SD leadership has cracked down on displays of racism and extremism from SD rank-and-file after several embarrasing incidents. In 2012, for example, the Expressen newspaper disclosed videos from 2010 which showed several high-ranking SD members holding racist and sexist remarks during a verbal brawl with a Kurdish-born comedian (they told him that Sweden was their country, not his; and insulted others by calling a woman a ‘little whore’ and a man a ‘nigger lover’) and later arming themselves with iron pipes after being threatened by witnesses. Erik Almqvist and Kent Ekeroth, two SD parliamentarians involved in the scandal, resigned their duties as party spokespersons and Almqvist later resigned from the Riksdag and the party.

The SD remained a higher controversial party. The Swedish media, civil society groups and the Church of Sweden are all overwhelmingly anti-SD, and a majority of Swedes remain hostile towards the party – which remains associated with racism, xenophobia and extremism in the eyes of many. Thus far, the party’s success has not prompted other parties to toughen their positions on immigration or seek cooperation with the SDs. Despite being in a potential kingmaker situation after the 2010 election, the SDs were been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure. Danish and Norwegian critics of Swedish politics often complain that there is a tightly patrolled pro-immigration/multiculturalism ‘consensus’ which has placed a virtual taboo on questions about the social and economic costs and a great reluctance if not refusal to engage in debate on the issue. This is obviously in stark contrast to both Norway and Denmark, where right-wing populist parties (DF and FrP) have raised a lively debate on immigration issues, influenced other parties’ immigration stances and have successfully (particularly in DF’s case in Denmark) pushed right-wing governments to adopt strict immigration laws. In Sweden, all other major parties have shunned the SDs – this is particularly true for the Greens, V and C who have the strongest ‘anti-SD’ profiles.

The SDs define themselves as a nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based) and (since 2011) social conservative party. Immigration and multiculturalism are the party’s major issues.

SD is, obviously, anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism. The SDs want to end ‘mass immigration’ and limit all types of immigration to a level where it does not pose a ‘threat’ to Swedish national identity – it wishes to restrict labour migration to highly-skilled, means-tested immigration in sectors with a labour shortage; it would severely limit family reunification by setting more stringent conditions; it supports limiting the number of asylum seekers granted residence permits to a bare minimum and it would accept only refugees who are in life-threatening circumstances and only for a temporary period (it basically thinks that Sweden’s refugee policies should help refugees in their home countries/regions rather than allowing them to move to Sweden). The SDs oppose multiculturalism (which it says leads to segregation and cultural clashes, and threatens Swedish identity) and the idea of integration (viewed as ‘meeting in the middle’), instead preaching assimilation – immigrants should receive education only in Swedish, certain non-Christian religious symbols and customs would be banned in public (veils, halal and kosher meat, non-Christian religious holidays), subsidies to immigrant associations would be cut off. Like other far-right parties, it is most hostile towards non-European immigration and Islam – in 2009, Åkesson said that Islam posed a threat to Swedish society. The SDs also wish to protect Sweden’s cultural heritage, opposes ‘cultural imperialism’ and cultural relativism (it believes that cultures which respect democracy and human rights are better than those which don’t); it would fund projects for the conservation of Swedish heritage, establish a cultural canon and increase the teaching of history in schools. The SDs would impose significantly stricter rules on naturalization – demanding 10-year residency with a clean record and demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Swedish language and society.

The SDs have eclectic views on economic issues, leaning right or left depending on the issues, with a strong influence of welfare chauvinism. The SDs support lower taxes for employers, individuals and pensioners (but not at the expense of welfare); higher unemployment benefits (with laxer requirements on job seekers and those who take on part-time work) but sees work as the only sure means to long-term individual prosperity (so it supports gradual decreases in unemployment benefits over time); abolishing Phase 3 in favour of education initiatives; an enhanced focus on apprenticeships with lower starting salaries; an expansion of adult education and vocational training programs; less regulations and taxes on SMEs (by increasing the number of exceptions to employee dismissal priority rules etc.) and moving to energy self-sufficiency with nuclear and hydro power. It strongly opposes affirmative action and ‘ethnic quotas’. The SDs also support more investments in healthcare (to improve availability, quality and staff conditions), increasing benefits for vulnerable groups, nationalization of schools, limiting the number of private schools, improving assistance for students, tougher discipline in classrooms and abolishing free healthcare for illegal immigrants. The party supports tough-on-crime policies with more support for victims, tougher sentences for serious crimes and repeat offenders and the possibility of life without parole.

The SDs are the most Eurosceptic party – they strongly oppose the Euro/EMU, want a referendum on EU membership, wants border controls by renegotiating Schengen and strongly opposes transfer of powers to Brussels. It seeks an independent and Nordic foreign policy which affirms Sweden’s place as a Western Christian nation – opposing Islamism, stronger defense of Swedish borders, reducing the aid budget but increasing support to the UNHCR and reintroducing conscription.

The SDs are a socially conservative party. While the party supports gender equality and opposes discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation, it believes that the nuclear family is the basis of society, that there are biologically-based differences between the sexes and that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic rather than a social construct. The party is not pro-life, but it wishes to restrict the period during which a women can have an abortion on demand from 18 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It does not challenge same-sex marriage, but opposes state-sanctioned adoption by single people, same-sex couples and polyamorous groups. The SDs support gender equality, but argues that individuals should be free to choose their own paths in life and that men and women should not be treated differently because of gender. It thus opposes state intervention to promote gender equality, notably on the issue of sharing parental leave between both parents.

The Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt initiativ, Fi or F!) is a left-wing feminist party founded in 2005. Sweden – and its Scandinavian neighbors – typically score highest of all countries in the world on measures of gender equality, it has one of the highest rates of women participation in the labour force and the welfare state has adopted strong policies and programs in favour of gender inequality. However, Sweden, like every other country, still faces problems such as the gender pay gap and women’s concentration in certain sectors of the labour force.

F! was founded in 2005 by a number of Swedish feminists, led by Gudrun Schyman, the leader of the Left Party (V) between 1993 and 2003. As V’s leader, Schyman – seen as a ‘reformist’ breaking with V’s problematic communist past – had spearheaded the official adoption of feminism as one of V’s ideologies and she had brought gender and feminist issues to the fore of political debate in Sweden. In 2003, Schyman was forced to resign after it was found that she received tax deductions for expenses which she did not pay (she later pleaded guilty). For a while, she continued her parliamentary work in V – most notably, in the fall of 2004, she raised attention to the issue of the cost of men’s violence against women, a motion which was seen by the media as a ‘men tax’ to support women’s shelters. In December 2004, Schyman left V but refused to resign from the Riksdag, a decision criticized by V. Schyman has remained F!’s best-known figure – a lot of the other feminist personalities who participated in F!’s foundation in 2005 have since left the party. At the outset, Finnish gender studies professor and queer feminist Tiina Rosenberg was the subject of controversy after her rivals claimed that she had said that women who sleep with men are traitors to their gender. In 2005, F! received attention with a proposal to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy. For a small party, F! received a lot of media attention, and American actress Jane Fonda even came to Sweden to support F!’s 2006 electoral campaign (in 2009, F! received a donation from ABBA’s Benny Andersson). In the end, F! won only 0.7%. In the 2009 EP elections, with Schyman’s candidacy, F! won 2.2%. In 2010, however, F!’s support fell to 0.4% (but Schyman won a seat on the local council of her hometown Simrishamn). Prior to the 2010 election, Schyman burned SEK100,000 to bring attention to the gender pay gap.

In 2014, F! experienced its first electoral breakthrough, winning 5.5% of the vote in the EP elections and winning one MEP (Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry, and sits in the Socialist group). After the EP success, F! enjoyed a surge in support and membership.

F!’s 2014 manifesto is available in English here. F! is a left-wing party – its manifesto talked of the ‘right to welfare and culture’, rejected the idea of work as end in itself (and that people need to be disciplined into working), saw welfare as a tool to build an egalitarian democratic society rather than a mere safety net, argued that human rights should come before economic growth, challenged the narrow conception of growth (based solely on economic terms) and identified discrimination, sexism and racism as the main ills to be fought. However, as a feminist party, it rejects Marxist class analysis as too limited and incapable of analyzing the patriarchal, hetero-normative and racist power structures. It brings attention to the gendered dimensions of modern political issues.

F!’s manifesto promised a labour market free from discrimination, political action for wage equality (with a ‘gender equality fund’ to finance wage increases in women-dominated sectors); a reduction of working hours to 6-hour work days; gender quotas; combining unemployment benefits, medical benefits and social security benefits into a combined social insurance scheme with guaranteed minimum levels of remuneration; an equal split of parental leave between both parents and the introduction of critical (norm-critical) pedagogy in schools (F! also called for increased human resources for school health, salary increases and professional development for teachers and smaller group sizes). On the issue of gender and sexual politics, F! supports criminalizing sex without consent; obligatory training within the justice system on issues such as violence, sexism, racism and human rights; improved sex-ed in schools; more accessible youth centers and clinics; facilitating the right to alter one’s gender; fighting all kinds of gender discrimination or practices which reinforce negative gender norms (including sexist advertising, strip clubs, porn); government core funding for women’s shelters; replacing marriage laws with a new co-habitation code that includes all types of families and tackling gender issues in education and healthcare (notably through norm critical education). F! defines itself as an anti-racist party, which seeks to fight racial/ethnic discrimination – its manifesto proposed the regularization (residence permits) of undocumented persons; refocusing the Migration Board’s duty from assessing people’s right to immigrate to Sweden to supporting new immigrants and working towards open borders.

The Feminists’ manifesto also promised state subsidies for eco-friendly housing; renovating the housing from the Million Programme (by phasing out the Alliance’s tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation and household services); taxing GHG emissions (striving for a UN-managed global tax on GHG emissions) including those from food production, to reduce meat consumption; a fully renewable energy system by 2040; investments in accessible public transport and free public transport. On diplomatic issues, F! seeks to challenge the patriarchal and paternalist systems of foreign and security policies, focusing instead on poverty reduction and feminist advocacy for women in the global south and against sexual exploitation. F! is pragmatic on the EU, but is critical of the lack of EU action on promoting gender equality, the militarization of the EU, the EU’s democratic deficit and EU asylum policy; it wants to push for more attention to women’s issues in the EU and women’s participation in decision-making.

Results and analysis

S – Social Democrats 31.01% (+0.35%) winning 113 seats (+1)
M – Moderates 23.33% (-6.74%) winning 84 seats (-23)
SD – Sweden Democrats 12.86% (+7.16%) winning 49 seats (+29)
Mp – Greens 6.89% (-0.45%) winning 25 seats (nc)
C – Centre 6.11% (-0.44%) winning 22 seats (-1)
V – Left 5.72% (+0.11%) winning 21 seats (+2)
Fp – Liberals 5.42% (-1.63%) winning 19 seats (-5)
KD – Christian Democrats 4.57% (-1.03%) winning 16 seats (-3)
F! – Feminists 3.12% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ÖVR – Others 0.97% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Red-Greens (S+Mp+V) 43.62% (+0.01%) winning 159 seats (+3)
Alliance 39.43% (-9.85%) winning 141 seats (-32)

Sweden 2014

NB: I refer to SVT’s exit poll below, which had a minor 0.7% average deviation from the final result, but had a 2.4% deviation with the SD result – predicted at 10.5% in the exit poll, but at 12.9% in reality. When SD numbers are referred to below, keep this in mind and perhaps add 2-3% on top of it to simulate reality.

The Swedish left won – by a very unimpressive margin and with numbers which disappoint many on the left – and the governing centre-right Alliance lost, more decisively; but, on the whole, the real winner of the election were the far-right SDs. The left’s victory had been looking very much like a fait accompli before the real campaign even began – the three left-wing parties had led the Alliance government in the polls for over two years, since March/April 2012, and most had predicted that the left would emerge victorious. The left’s lead over the government only grew beginning in the fall of 2013, taking a comfortable 10-point lead over the Alliance parties in all polls for about a year until August 2014.

After two terms in power, the centre-right was looking tired and without any enticing ideas with which to capture voters’ imagination. Swedish voters still trusted Fredrik Reinfeldt on issues such as the economy, taxes or personal finances – and Reinfeldt remained, on the whole, a net positive for his party. However, on other issues, the Social Democrats, under a more competent and unoffensive leader (Stefan Löfven) managed to regain voters’ trusts on other issues high on their minds, such as the welfare state, jobs or education. Many voters in 2014 turned against tax cuts, in favour of protecting the welfare state. According to the SVT exit poll, the top issues on voters’ minds were schools and education (60%, +6 on 2010), healthcare (54%, +5), the economy (53%, -1), social welfare (51%, +5) and employment (50%, -3). 35% also noted profits in welfare as one of their main preoccupations.

Scandals involving the government, high unemployment, voter fatigue and some unpopular or controversial policy issues (notably profit in welfare, where Swedes sided with the left) also hurt the government. Nevertheless, the Alliance managed to hold its own during the last stretch of the campaign – despite the smacking received by M in the May EP elections (a catastrophic third place finish behind the Greens) – and, with the Social Democrats proving to be quite uninspiring themselves, did close the gap somewhat – the last polls all showed that the left had lost its 10+ lead over the Alliance and that the gap between both blocs was in the single-digits, with some pollsters showing the Alliance within four points in their last polls. On election night, the three left-wing parties finished only 4.19% ahead of the Alliance. The 43.6% received by the left-wing parties is basically identical to their 2010 result, which had been a poor showing for the left. The Social Democrats only barely increased their result, to 31%, from their historic low in 2010.

The main question of the election had been whether the unofficial Red-Green bloc (S+Mp+V) could win an absolute majority, a prospect which became increasingly distant in the final days as the Alliance closed the gap and SD kept polling well. There was a big hubbub about what it would mean if S+Mp+V only won a plurality, or if S+Mp was smaller than the Alliance (and speculation about a potential S+Mp government falling if V didn’t play along with them outside of government and if SD backed the Alliance parties on the budget votes). In the end, the Red-Greens fell 16 seats short of an absolute majority (175), and S+Mp alone are indeed 3 seats smaller than all the Alliance parties combined.

The real winners, clearly, were the Sweden Democrats. The far-right party ended up with 12.9%, up over 7% on its 2010 breakthrough result, and finishing third. Sweden had famously ‘lagged behind’ Denmark and Norway in terms of the electoral strength of the populist right/far-right, but it caught up quite fast – the SDs result is even higher than what DF won in the last Danish election, although that’s meaningless given that DF will (in all likelihood) perform extremely well in next year’s Danish election. Although Swedish voters remain generally supportive of immigration, it’s clear that there’s a significant number of voters who are increasingly hostile or at least cool towards Sweden’s liberal immigration and multiculturalism policies – and those voters, who make up a significant share of the electorate, are currently fairly unrepresented by the existing parties. All the Alliance parties are pro-immigration and the left-wing parties, especially Mp and V, are also strongly in favour of immigration (S is the only party which has some vocal critics of open immigration, but the party does remain pro-immigration on the whole); in this context, the SDs are the only party who appeal to anti-immigration voters. The SDs may have been helped by the attention given to the issue of Syrian refugees in the last stretch of the campaign, including with Reinfeldt’s appeal for Swedes to ‘open their hearts’. According to the SVT exit poll, 17% of voters said that the SDs had the best policy on immigration and refugees – against 20% for S, 12% for M and 8% for Fp. On all other issues, only 3-5% of voters said that the SDs had the best policy.

With SD firmly established in Swedish politics and, for now, as the third largest party (and, of course, the potential kingmaker) there can be lots of speculation on the role which the SDs will manage to play in the coming years. It still appears unlikely that the other parties will break the official cordon sanitaire around SD and formally seek to work with them. The Alliance parties remain unlikely to move towards more restrictive immigration policies – C in particular has played itself up as a strong anti-SD party, and potential new leaders for the Alliance parties all look quite unlikely to lead right-wing transformations of their parties. In short, it is quite tough to see any of the Alliance parties moving right-wards, à la Danish Venstre, on immigration issues.

The Social Democrats had hoped to recover from their 2010 rout, and for a while it looked as if S stood a chance at reaching their 35% objective, but S lost support following the EP elections and during the campaign. The party’s inoffensive and uninspiring campaign resulted in loses to other parties on the left, although some voters likely switched to the Alliance over the course of the last few days when the right managed to significantly close the gap. Löfven may have been hurt from a small debate gaffe in the final debate; C leader Annie Lööf came up to his pulpit to hand him a paper, but a flustered Löfven raised his hand and brushed her arm away, an incident which created some buzz and which the right tried to exploit to paint him as a “Social Democratic strongman” (in the words of Reinfeldt). Löfven, who had no formal political/electoral experience before becoming leader, also faced questions about his experience – although his background as a calm and soft-spoken trade unionist is popular.

Vote shifts 2010 to 2014 (source: SVT exit poll 2014, p. 14)

31% is a very weak result for S and an especially weak mandate for Löfven. In short, by playing it too cautious, S likely lost itself a number of swing voters. Like other Social Democrats in Europe, the Swedish Social Democrats have struggled in recent years as a result of their inability/weakness at reinventing themselves and responding to many new issues. According to SVT’s exit poll, 78% of S’s 2010 supporters voted for them again. S lost 6% to V, 4% to the Greens, 3% to the Feminists – so a total of 13% of its 2010 voters chose to vote for another left-wing party. It lost only 4% of its 2010 vote to the Alliance parties, but lost 5% to the SDs. The SDs, since 2010, have successfully made inroads in a number of traditionally solidly S demographics: LO members (6% in 2010 and 11% in 2014) and workers (9% in 2010 and 12% in 2014).

The Moderates, who had been responsible for the Alliance’s gains in 2010, now bore the brunt of the loses – losing a significant amount of support and falling to 23%, which was roughly M’s pre-Reinfeldt level of support in the 1990s, 2002 notwithstanding. M lost a significant amount of support across bloc boundaries to the far-right and S, while also suffering more minor loses to other Alliance parties. According to the exit poll, M only retained 63% of its 2010 vote, losing 8% to S and another 8% to the SDs. The far-right has made sizable gains with conservative M voters, who may not have been totally enamoured by the ‘New Moderates’ shift towards the centre; in both 2010 and 2014, SD also did fairly well with right-leaning demographics including entrepreneurs (4% in 2010, 8% in 2014) and farmers (8% in 2014, 4% in 2010), while in 2014 it improved its showing with white-collar employees to 6% from about 3-4% in 2010. M also lost a total of 17% of its 2010 vote to its Alliance partners – 6% to Fp, 4% to C and 3% to KD. Some of these may have been traditional supporters of those parties ‘returning home’ after supporting Reinfeldt (and M) in 2014, or perhaps ‘loan votes’ from right-wing voters who wanted to ensure that these parties, especially C and KD, made it past the 4% threshold. M lost 3% to Mp, which is probably far less than what M lost to the Greens back in the EP election in May, and only 1% apiece to V and F!.

Fredrik Reinfeldt resigned as Prime Minister immediately after the defeat and will also step down as M leader in the spring. He stayed true to his word that he wouldn’t try to hang on to power if the red-green bloc was larger than the Alliance.

The Sweden Democrats broadened their electorate in 2014 – their vote retention, especially for a protest party vulnerable to protest voters’ whims, was very strong (79%), and they attracted supporters from both the left and right. Only 41% of SDs’ 2014 voters had supported them in 2010 – a full 29% of their 2014 voters had voted M in 2010 and 16% had voted S. The SDs drew much smaller amounts from parties with electorates far more hostile to SD – only 5% from Fp, 3% from the KD, and 2% apiece from V, Mp and C. In terms of support across age groups, SDs’ support was far more balanced than in 2010. In the last election, SD won 6% with young voters 18-21, but only 5% with those 22 to 30, 4% with those 31 to 64 and 3% with those older than 65. This year, SD won 8%, 7%, 8% and 8% respectively in those age groups. In 2010, the stereotypical SD voter was a young working-class male with low education (‘the angry youth white man’) – i.e. a fairly typical European far-right voter. This year, SD has a more balanced electorate – although they still have clear ‘weak groups’.

The Greens did surprisingly poorly, which is certainly extremely disappointing for them just a few months after their remarkable second place finish (15.4%) in the EP elections. The Greens, whose 7.3% result in 2010 marked their highest showing in a Riksdag election, had been polling 8-10% in the final days (and a bit higher, up to 12%, in the period before that). The Greens, granted, tend to lose support in the final days of an election – a similar fate befell them in 2010, falling from about 9-10%, and they generally underperform their polling numbers. The Greens tend to have a fairly unstable electorate – they retained only half of their 2010 vote. The main ‘culprit’ for their poor showing this year seems to be F! – 19% of Mp’s 2010 voters went over to the Feminists this year, in addition to 13% who vote S, 10% who voted V and a total of 7% who switched to the Alliance (3% M, 2% C, 1% Fp and 1% KD). The Greens did gain some votes from S and M – 15% and 10% of those parties’ 2010 voters switched to the Greens, as did 5% of V voters from 4 years ago and 4% of C and Fp voters. The Feminists, unsurprisingly, hurt the Greens most with younger voters – according to SVT, Green support fell 3% (16% to 13%) with younger adults 22 to 30 and by 1% (16% to 15%) with those 18 to 21; in those groups, F! won 11% and 9% respectively.

The Centre Party can be very pleased with its result – losing only minimally from 2010 (-0.4% and 1 seat). It is a result made even more remarkable when one takes into account the kind of trouble and tough times C went through in a not-so-distant past. Before the EP election (when C did quite well), C had been hovering around the 4% threshold with serious concern that C, like KD, could fall out of the Riksdag. The Centrists had been in these dire straits since around 2013, when C was in the midst of divisive internal policy debates and new leader Annie Lööf was stumbling. Then the Centre Party remembered how to run a winning campaign, which played up C as a tough anti-SD choice, and it worked wonders. C retained 55% of its 2010 vote, losing 12% to M, 7% to S, 7% to Mp, 7% to Fp and 6% to KD (only 3% to SD, 2% to F! and 1% to V); on the other hand, it also gained quite a bit from M (26% of C’s 2014 voters had voted M in 2010) and Fp (13% of its voters).

The Left may be slightly disappointed with its result – 5.7%, which is only a very minor 0.1% gain (+1 seat), which still places it below its mediocre 2006 result. In the polls, V was polling 6-7% in the last stretch of the campaign and even higher (7-9%) before then. With a new and less controversial leader in Jonas Sjöstedt, V was probably hoping for more. V also had a real winning issue in its hands, with which it could realistically hope to attract new left-wing voters – profit in welfare. In the SVT exit poll, 21% of voters said V was the best party on the issue, compared to 20% for S and 17% for M. The issue was the most important issue for V’s voters, and was also quite important (although less so) for left-wing voters (the Alliance and SDs’ voters didn’t care much). To a certain extent, V’s popularity (on the left) on this new issue helped them attract some votes from S and Mp (21% and 12% of V’s vote this year came from people who had voted S and Mp respectively in 2010). However, V was hurt by F!’s relative success – no less than one-fifth of V’s 2010 voters went for F! instead this year, with an additional 14% switching to the Social Democrats (another 5% went Green).

The Liberals and Christian Democrats also suffered more substantial loses on the right, with both parties suffering loses across blocs to S and within the bloc to other parties (M and C, mostly). Nevertheless, both parties remained above the 4% threshold – KD, as the smallest right-wing party, faces the same danger of falling below the threshold in every election, and KD was indeed polling below 4% in most polls before the EP elections, when KD performed relatively well and moved back up above the 4% threshold in subsequent polls. Fp, which underperformed its polling numbers, was probably hurt by C’s recovery (11% of its 2010 voters went over to C this year).

The Feminists, one of the major question marks of this election, ended up winning only 3.1%, compared to 5.9% in the EP election. F! saw a brief surge in support before and shortly after the EP election, but its momentum petered out slowly, although it regained some ground in the very last days. With the other major question of the election being whether S+Mp+V would get an absolute majority, there was some effort on the left to bring F! above the 4% threshold in a bid to get an absolute majority with F!. As part of this final push from F!, Gudrun Schyman appeared onstage at American singer Pharrell Williams’ concert in Stockholm on the eve of the election. F!’s results were frustrating for the other parties on the left, from a strategic standpoint – the 3% for F! more or less ended up as wasted votes, which would otherwise have gone to left-wing parties in the Riksdag (Mp and V). However, even if F! had made it in the Riksdag by winning over 4% or if it had won slightly less support (and the difference had instead gone to, say, Mp or V) the centre-left bloc would still have fallen short of an absolute majority. Overall, 77% of F!’s voters came from people who had voted for the three leftist parties in 2010 – 33% from the Greens, 30% from the Left and 14% from SAP (an additional 10% had already voted F! in 2010) – compared to only 10% which came from the Alliance parties (5% from M). In terms of issues, F!’s voters obviously placed gender equality as their top concern while 18% of voters saw F! as the most competent party on that issue (tied for first with S). According to the SVT exit poll, 8% of women voted for the Feminists compared to 4% of men. F!’s support, as alluded to above, was predominantly young.

The Pirate Party – Sweden’s Pirates were among the first in the world (first running in 2006) and the first to achieve notable electoral success (in the 2009 EP elections), but they have since been losing steam and has dwindled into irrelevance – won only 0.4%, down 0.22% from 2010. In the fun world of write-in votes, the most popular option was Partiet De Fria (607 votes), which seems to be an informally organized aspiring party operating in the conspiratorial right-libertarian sphere of politics with rants against banks, the EU and other alleged conspiracies (Bilderberg Group); amusingly, it won more votes than the registered Swedish Communist Party (SKP, which is the continuation of a pro-Soviet split from V in the 1970s). The old satirical Donald Duck party won 115 votes, the Satanistiskt initiativ (a parody of F!) won 67 votes and the ‘Communist Party’ won 50 votes.

On the bases of these numbers, Stefan Löfven was able to become Prime Minister at the helm of a minority government. Löfven was quick to rule out a coalition including V, which visibly irritated V and Jonas Sjöstedt – who had wanted to be part of a coalition with the left-wing parties, although with strict conditions – but which came as little surprise as it had been clear, in the weeks before the vote, that there was little appetite in S or Mp ranks for a coalition government V. Jonas Sjöstedt had previously more or less conditioned government participation to a full ban on profit in welfare, which was not something S and Mp are amenable towards. Löfven had repeatedly, during the campaign, indicated his desire to work across the aisle with Fp and C; V doesn’t want anything to do with those two centre-right parties, while those two centre-right parties likewise don’t want to be with V. However, Fp and later C quickly rejected Löfven’s advances. Liberal leader Jan Björklund said that the ball was now in Löfven’s court, meaning that he had the responsibility of forming a government. Annie Lööf, who comes out of the vote in a surprisingly strong position (as the leader of the second-largest party, especially as M will be looking for a new leader now), unsurprisingly rejected Löfven’s proposal, reminding him that S had worked with SD in the past legislature to block some Alliance budget planks. The small Alliance parties may cooperate with S+Mp on consensual policy issues.

The Speaker nominated Löfven to form a government with S and Mp. On October 2, the Riksdag confirmed Löfven’s nomination as Prime Minister, with 132 votes in favour (S and Mp) and 49 against (SD) with 154 abstentions (the Alliance and V). V, which had voted ‘yes’ to previous S governments in the past – notably in 1982 and 1994 – abstained, which was a pretty clear warning shot aimed at the government. V’s speech in the Riksdag in the debate preceding the vote was quite critical of the new government, criticizing Löfven for not choosing to govern to his left and warning the government that while it would support it on certain issues it wouldn’t become its ‘passive support’ and instead be the left-wing alternative. Löfven announced his new cabinet, which includes Mp ministers – notably Åsa Romson, the Greens’ co-spokesperson as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment. The Greens will also hold the portfolios of International Development and Cooperation, Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs (a ‘Deputy Minister of Finance’ post), Education (for Gustav Fridolin, the Greens’ young male co-spokesperson), Housing and Urban Development, and Culture and Democracy. Notable names in the cabinet include Sweden’s acclaimed former European Commissioner and UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones Margot Wallström, who will be Minister of Foreign Affairs, while economist and former Director-General of the Swedish Tax Agency Magdalena Andersson will be Minister of Finance.

It will be a very moderate government by the looks of it all – the Greens compromised and agreed to drop their opposition to defense spending, shutting down nuclear power plants and the 1994 S-bourgeois pension agreement, while S dropped their tough stance on labour migration. The new government has promised to scrap the current time limit on the duration of sick leave/sickness insurance (introduced by the right), abolish Phase 3, raise the school leaving age by 2 years to 18 years old (the left argues this will improve their employment prospects because the unemployment rate of HS dropouts is very high), raise the ceiling on unemployment insurance (recipients will get up to 80% of their wage and it should no longer drop off gradually based on duration of unemployment) and push large companies to have 40% of women on their boards by 2016 (or face legislative action). What retained the most attention around the world, however, was the government’s announcement that it intends to recognize Palestine. Löfven has already taken flack for a flip-flop on VAT in restaurants/cafés (the Alliance cut it by half, but S was very critical of it as an inefficient use of money but it won’t be raising it now) and the RUT (the tax deduction for domestic services); in both cases, they result from compromises with the Greens, who supported both policies.

The next step, in November, will be for the government to present its budget bill. In the Swedish budgetary process, opposition parties may also submit their own budgets, and it seems as if the Alliance will present a common one as will SD. The budget issue could be tricky and potentially very dangerous for the government – after the election, SD leader Jimmie Åkesson said that he was open to voting in favour of the Alliance’s budget proposal, on the unlikely off chance that SD likes it (which is very unlikely as the Alliance will probably propose increasing resources for the migration office), which would then mean that the government would have a majority against its budget and would lead to early elections; but this was mostly trolling to send journalists in their usual hysteric frenzy. It remains very likely that the government will still manage to pass their budget. On other issues, the government will need to work with V and the Alliance parties (or SD) or rely on the passive abstention of one of those parties. Which means that it is a government with a very weak mandate, which is unlikely to effect substantial policy changes.

Demographic analysis

Issue importance (average, ranked) for each parties’ voters (source: SVT exit poll 2014, p. 10)

The SVT exit poll had some other interesting points. The questions on the top issues brought out interesting dimensions in terms of how different parties’ voters ranked the major issues, and the perceived competence of the parties on those issues. While education, healthcare and seniors were major issues across the board (although education was less important for SD voters and healthcare less important for M, C and F! voters), the right was more deeply concerned about the Swedish economy (it was the top issue for M, C and KD voters) and their personal economy; the left, in turn, was more concerned about issues including social welfare, profits in welfare (there was a very big left-right split here in terms of importance given) and housing. The environment was the top issue for Green voters but also ranked highly for F! (#3), C (#4) and V (#7) while S supporters did not show as much concern (#14) and Fp, M and SD voters ranked the environment at the bottom. Gender equality, obviously the top issue for F! voters, was also one of the top 10 issue for V, Green, Fp and C voters (reflecting the most actively feminist parties) but the second least-important concern for SD supporters. Immigration was the top issue for SD voters, and it also ranked highly – certainly for the opposite reasons – for F! (#6) and Mp (#9) voters, while Alliance voters didn’t think much of it. Law and order was the second most important issue for SD voters, and the eight most important for M voters; but it was less important for supporters of the three other Alliance parties and even less so for left-wing voters. Business conditions were some of the least important considerations for left-wing and SD voters, but voters from all four Alliance parties ranked it in the top 10. Taxes were a top 10 issue for KD and M voters, but less important for C and Fp voters.

In terms of issue competence, M led S 39% to 27% on the ‘Swedish economy’, by 10 (34-24) on one’s ‘personal economy’ and also held a 6 point lead on S on taxation. On education, S was the most competent for 27% of voters while Fp was most competent for 22% of voters (a clear sign of Fp’s success as a ‘niche party’ for education issues on the right), with only 11% for M and 10% for V. On employment, S was statistically tied with M with a 1-point edge (31-30), with 7% giving top marks to V on this issue. On healthcare, S had a decisive 19-point lead over M (31% to 12%), with good marks for V (12%), KD (10%) and Fp (7%) as well. On social welfare, S also led M by 16, 31% to 15%, with 12% giving top marks to V and 7% to Fp; S also led M on pensions (29-14, V 9%). On the environment, the Greens were the most competent for 42% of voters, with C coming in second with 22% – again a clear sign of C’s success as a ‘niche party’ for environmental issues on the right – and only 10% for S and 6% for M. On profits in welfare, as noted above, V led S by 1 (21% to 20%), with M at 17%. On gender equality, F! and S were tied at 18% apiece, with good numbers for V (9%) and Fp (9%). On immigration, S led SD by 3, 20% to 17%, with 12% to M, 9% to V and 8% to Fp. It should be noted that SD remains very much of a one-issue party, or at least one defined by one issue – besides immigration, the best SD scored on any other issue was 5% (pensions), with only 2-4% giving it top marks on any of the other issues. F! was also a one-issue party to voters, with recognized ‘expertise’ on gender equality but little elsewhere (besides 4% on immigration). In terms of blocs, the left led clearly on the environment (55-30), immigration (35-28-17), healthcare (46-32), social welfare (47-32), pensions (40-28) and profits in welfare (44-30); the right only led clearly on the economy (45-35) and personal economy (43-33).

In demographic terms, there were few surprises. The gender gap is minimal, although SD remains considerably more masculine (10% to 6%) while the Greens and F! are more feminine (10-7 and 8-4 respectively). Younger voters, naturally, tend to be more supportive of new parties – the Greens, F! and (historically) SD – while S and M are considerably weaker with younger groups (S won 20% and 23% and M won 19% in the 18-21 and 20-23 groups respectively); older voters are more supportive of S and M, with S winning 37% with those over 65 (23% for M) and 28% with those 31 to 64. Green support drops to only 3% with voters over 65. V, C, Fp and now SD have balanced support across all age groups (although V is a bit weaker with the oldest folks) while KD does better with seniors (7% with those 65+). According to a more detailed historical breakdown of voting patterns (1956-2010) published in 2011 by Göteborgs Universitet, S has usually had balanced support among both genders but M is generally a bit more male-heavy; in terms of age, the Greens (and V) seem to be strongest with young adults 23-40 (instead of the youngest voters), S’ support has historically held up better with older voters while it lost more to other parties over time with younger voters.

Class remains a salient cleavage in vote choice in Sweden. The Social Democrats won blue-collar workers with 40% against only 13% for M, with a strong 12% for the far-right. V polled 9% and Mp 8% with workers. Historically, however, S won upwards of 70% of industrial workers’ votes, having been hurt by V (in 1998 and 2002) and by M (in 2006 and 2010). S also won LO unionized workers 50% to 11% (SD), with 10% apiece for V and M; likewise, this is also significantly lower than S results with LO members in the heydays of social democracy. The Moderates narrowly retained officials/white-collar workers, 26% to 23% (it had won them 34% to 20% in 2010), with solid numbers for Fp (8%), Greens (9%), C (7%) and V (8%) but weaker results for SD. According to the more detailed aforecited study, right-wing support increases with the rank of the employee – S wins lower-level employees by a wide margin, while M wins higher-level employees (managerial) by resounding margins, with those in between splitting more equally (the Greens do best with mid-level employees, and Fp with higher-level employees). Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs remained resoundingly right-wing, voting 36% for M and only 15% for S, with a solid 10% for C (which often defends small businesses) and above-average for Mp (8%), Fp and KD as well. Farmers voted C 45% to 14% each for M and S; although small sample sizes in recent years make it tough to see whether M or KD have made lasting inroads with previously C-voting farmers. As in other countries, public sector employees backed the left by a wide margin – 34% for S, 10% for V and 9% for Mp compared to 33% for the Alliance (with 16% for M) and 7% each for SD and F!; in Sweden, those employed by municipal governments are more left-wing (56% red-green) than those who worked for the State (47% red-green). Private sector employees narrowly preferred M over S, 27% to 25%, with a solid showing for SD (9%) and average support for the other parties.

Unemployed voters split 37% S, 17% M and 13% SD, while those currently on sick leave voted heavily for the left (43% S, 15% V) and SD (14%). Students went in large numbers to the smaller left-wing parties – only 21% for S, but 15% for the Greens, 14% for the Feminists and 10% for the Left; M managed 16%, with 7% apiece for C and Fp while the far-right recorded only 5% of students’ votes. The exit polls had no data on education levels, unfortunately; however, the study linked to above has some old data on education levels, which showed that voters with high education (tied to wealth, which is another major vote determinant in Sweden) have tended to lean heavily towards the right, M and Fp in particular (even more so in the past; 57% in 2010), with strong support for the Greens (16% in 2010) but very weak numbers for S (18% in 2010) and the far-right (1%). Voters with low educational achievement have, on the other hand, tended to solidly support S (about 50% in 2010) with weak numbers for the right (34% in 2010) and the Greens (2% in 2010) but also the highest support for SD (7% in 2010). Interestingly, the data also broke down voting patterns based on the field of education – teaching, the humanities, arts seem to be particularly pro-Green (no surprises); health and social care seem to be pro-S while administration, technical education and engineering seem to be right-leaning.

A more recent solid reservoir of support for S has been immigrants and foreign-born Swedes, particularly non-Europeans. With voters who themselves and their parents grew up outside of Europe, 43% voted S, 18% voted V and only 14% voted for the Moderates (some 3% voted SD) – a total of 71% of the vote for the three parliamentary left-wing parties. The Social Democrats also performed well with non-Nordic Europeans, receiving 41% of their votes against 20% for M and 8% for SD and V each (a more modest 53% for the red-greens); however, non-Swedish Nordics more or less voted in line with the country.

Religious practice is a secondary, but fairly important, factor in vote choice. The Social Democrats showed little variation with degrees of religiosity. However, KD’s support varies directly in relation to religiosity – among voters who claimed that they went to church at least once a month, 24% voted KD – making them the second-largest party behind S (26%) and far ahead of their Alliance partners, including M (14%). According to the document linked to above, KD polled even better with regular church-goers in its better years – up to 37-40% of the vote in 1998 and 2002. With voters at the other end – those who never go to church – the Christian Democrats won only 2% of the vote, compared to 27% for S, 22% for M, 11% for V and 10% for the Greens. Amusingly, the Fp have lost all traces of their past links to the free churches – whereas up until the 1970s, Fp’s support increased with higher church attendance, Fp now is weakest with regular church-goers (5%). Interestingly, while V and F! clearly poll better with less religious voters, religiosity does not seem to have an impact on the Greens, who polled 9% with regular church-goers and 10% with those who never go. The far-right is weakest with the most religious voters; the Church of Sweden has spoken out against SD’s immigration policies.

The SVT exit poll also included interesting data on ideological self-identification. In this election, a plurality of respondents identified as left-wing (43%) rather than right-wing (36%), with 20% identifying with neither. In 2006 and 2010, elections won by the right, a plurality of respondents identified with the right (42-38 in 2010 and 41-37 for the right in 2006); going back further, most identified on the left in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 elections – all won by the left – but most identified with the right in 1991. Unsurprisingly, almost all V voters identify as left-wing (96%). An increasing number, from the 1990s, of S voters also identify as left-wing (74%, compared to 67% in 1991), due to a decline in the percentage of S voters identifying with neither left nor right. Green voters have also shifted heavily towards left-wing self-identification (69%, and over 70% in 2006 and 2010; compared to 43% in 1991), due to a decline in the percentage of their voters identifying as neither but also those identifying as right-wing (14% in 1991). On the other hand, C voters have moved in the opposite direction, with far heavier self-identification with the right than in the 1990s (65% in 2014, 42% in 1991). An increasing number of Fp and KD voters also identify with the right (73% and 77% respectively in 2014, compared to 60% and 56% in 1991). Moderates voters have always identified very heavily with the right, although since Reinfeldt and 2006, there’s been a small decline in the intensity of their right-wing identification – 84% in 2014, compared to 91% in 1998 and 2002. Finally, in 2014, SD voters identified largely as right-wing (44%) or neither (39%), with only 17% identifying as left-wing.

Geographic analysis

Largest bloc (M+C+Fp+KD vs. S+Mp+V) by kommun (own map)

Largest bloc (M+C+Fp+KD vs. S+Mp+V) by kommun (own map)

Geographically, Swedish elections are marked by a rough (and certainly not universal/perfect) north-south and urban-rural divide. Class remains the top voting determinant, as the exit polls may tell you. Working-class regions remain solidly left-wing, with weak results for the right, although in many cases SD has become a very important force in blue-collar towns and neighborhoods (running a distant second to SAP or a very strong third behind M). Upper-class and upper middle-class areas – ‘villa suburbs’ (single-detached homes) – are, on the other hand, solidly right-wing: in urban areas, this is where M, Fp and C usually do best (the KD may also poll well, although their vote tends to be less correlated with high income). Gentrified inner-city areas with young, single, mobile and well-educated populations or student precincts near universities provide the best results for the ‘alternative left’ – Mp, V and F!. Rural areas’ voting, in reality, depends on what type of ‘rural area’ it is: industrialized, working-class towns in rural inland Sweden are Social Democratic strongholds (in some cases with some substantial support for V, and in most cases today with strong support for SD); rural areas more dominated by agriculture in the past still are the Centre Party’s best regions (for all the hubbub about C’s green-libertarian shift, rural areas remain C’s stomping ground and cities are its weakest spots).

Norrland

Northern Sweden is solidly left-wing – the Social Democrats won 48.7% in Norrbotten County, 46.3% in Västernorrland County, 42% in Västerbotten County, 39.8% in Jämtland County and 38.2% in Gävleborg County (its best results in the country) – and two of V’s three best constituencies were also in Norrland – Västerbotten (11%) and Norrbotten (8.6%). On the other hand, the Greens placed below their national average in every Norrland county, while F! only polled above its national average in Västerbotten County. The Moderates’ five lowest results in the country came from the north, polling as low as 12.9% in Norrbotten County. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – most major industrial centres were located outside the major cities, notably Stockholm. Resource-rich but sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old resource-based industrial region – forestry, the timber industry and iron ore mining have been very important to region’s economy. Kiruna and Gällivare municipalities in the Malmfälten (ore fields) region of Norrbotten County were very important iron ore mining centres, which have featured prominently in Sweden’s economic and labour history (with the LKAB strike in 1969-1970), while the port city of Luleå has been the base of a large metallurgical industry. Sundsvall in Västernorrland was the centre of a large sawmill/pulp and paper industry, while Skellefteå had an important gold mining industry. Working-class and poor, the region has long leaned to the left, although the Centrists had strong support in more rural locations (C won 11.3%, its second best result, in Jämtland County, which has less industry) and Västerbotten County had an important free church/non-conformist base (the county used to be one of Fp’s strongest counties, but has since died out). The Communists were strong in the iron ore fields. Since the 1960s, the region has experienced economic downturns and out-migration – the population peaked in the 1960s and has since declined, and the steel industry was hit by the 1970s steel crisis. Today, the public sector is a major employer. Some cities have successfully transitioned to a post-industrial economy, especially Umeå in Västerbotten County, which is home to the north’s most prominent university.

While the left did well in Norrland again, the far-right made some substantial gains. In Gävleborg County, SD won 16% – up from 7% in 2014 – making it one of its best counties in Sweden; but SD also managed some impressive results in Norrbotten County, with 11%, compared to only 4.2% in 2010. In Norrbotten County, both S and V lost support (-3.1% for S and – 0.7% v), meaning that a substantial part of SDs’ +7% gain came at the left’s expense. In the old mining town of Gällivare, SD won 15%, making it the second largest party behind S (50.5%) and ahead of V (11.6%). In Kiruna, SD won 13.2% against 47.4% for S and 11.6% for V. In Gävleborg County, SD won 15.8% in the industrial city of Gävle and even higher in smaller working-class sawmill or railway towns. However, SD remained below its national average in every county except Gävleborg, and Västerbotten County was its second-worst constituency with only 7.4% of the vote. In the university town of Umeå, SD won only 5.7% – the Left (12.3%), Greens (8.1%) and Feminists (6%) did quite well in the city. In the old industrial town of Skellefteå, which has regenerated with a IT industry, SD also did poorly (7.8%) while S won a landslide (50.2%).

Stockholm

On the other hand, the Stockholm region leans heavily towards the right. The Moderates defeated the Social Democrats in Stockholm county (which excludes the city itself) 32.7% to 24.1%, while in Stockholm city, M won 27.7% against 21.6% for S and 11.2% for the Greens.

As noted in the demographic analysis, class remains a salient cleavage and the Moderates are stereotypically painted by their opponents as an elitist, upper-class party. While that’s a gross oversimplification, the Moderates’ best results come from wealthy areas. Stockholm county includes some of Sweden’s most affluent suburban localities, which are also some of the most right-wing areas in the country. In Danderyd, the wealthiest town in Sweden, M won 49.98% – down slightly from 2010 – while S only came in fifth, behind the three other Alliance parties (Fp 11.9%, KD 10.5%, C 7.1%). The Moderates also won by similarly massive margins in other very affluent suburban municipalities such as Täby (45.3%), Lidingö (44.7%) and Vaxholm (41.1%). The Social Democrats were more successful in poorer suburban municipalities such as Botkyrka, where S won 36.2% to M’s 22.1% and SDs’ 10.3% – the northern half of the town includes a lot of poor immigrant areas (in the Botkyrka Norra election district, S won 50.1% against 12.3% for M and 9% for V); or in Södertälje, a manufacturing centre with a large immigrant population, where S won 32% against 23.1% for M and 12.4% for SD.

The city of Stockholm has traditionally leaned towards the bourgeois party – the city, which was never a working-class industrial capital, is wealthy and often known for its very high house prices. The Moderates won 27.7% in the city against 21.6% for S, 11.2% for the Greens, 7.9% for the Liberals and 7.2% for F! – which won its best national result in the capital city. There is a strong class divide in voting patterns in the city. The Moderates and their allies are strongest in Stockholm’s wealthy upscale districts, such as Östermalm, Norrmalm, Bromma, Västerled and so forth – in the Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan electoral district, which includes many of Stockholm’s affluent neighborhoods, M won 42.3% against 11.5% for Fp and only 10.2% for S. The right also dominated in the predominantly affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen electoral district, with M winning 35.1% against 14.5% for S, 10.6% for the Liberals and 10.3% for the Greens. However, in the Yttre Västerort district – which includes the ‘rough’ low-income immigrant neighborhoods of Rinkeby, Tensta and Husby – S won 35.1% against 22.7% for the Moderates. In the most heavily immigrant precincts, S received between 60 and 70% of the vote, although it did suffer some loses to the Greens and/or the Left in some low-income immigrant precincts. The district also includes some lower-income blue-collar neighborhoods in  Hässelby-Vällingby borough. The gentrified central district of Södermalm, as well as other young bobo-type areas (Aspudden, Gröndal, Midsommarkransen, Årsta) are the Greens’ main strongholds in the city – in the electoral district of Södermalm-Enskede, the Greens placed third with 14.2% and the Feminists won a solid fourth place with 11.1% of the vote (eating into the Green vote, which fell 2.7%). First and second place went to M (23.2%) and S (19.5%), while V won sixth with 9.8%. In other neighborhoods of the city, the general trends were similar – the Social Democrats dominant in Million Programme-era low-income suburban areas (such as high-rise immigrant neighborhood Skärholmen, the Alliance parties hegemonic in upscale villa suburbs while the smaller left-wing parties (Mp, V, F!) won some good results in more middle-class, post-war/Million Programme suburbs. Stockholm, which is predominantly a well-educated and high-income city, was the weakest region in the country for the far-right (as was already the case previously), with SD winning only 6.6% in the city, its best results coming from the southeastern electoral district of Östra Söderort (8%, with its best results there coming from precincts in low-income Farsta and Hagsätra).

The Centre Party won 4.9% in Stockholm, better than what it won in Sweden’s two other major cities, but still very much at the low end of C’s national results. That’s one of the major issues with C’s libertarian/green-shift of late – its base remains rural, and votes gained in urban areas have not compensated for loses in rural areas. In urban areas, C’s vote seems to be tightly correlated with high incomes or high levels of education (since C won over 5% in the university towns of Uppsala and Lund, it also has a small base with libertarian students).

Class voting is starkest in Stockholm – according to this electoral atlas from 2010, there was a remarkably solid positive correlation between median income and the Alliance, particularly M and C, and a very strong positive correlation between the foreign-born population and the SAP vote.

Svealand

In Svealand – central Sweden – outside of the capital region – the Social Democrats won some strong results: 39.1% in Värmland County, 37.9% in Örebro County, 35.9% in Västmanland County, 35.5% in Dalarna County and 34.6% in Södermanland County. In Uppsala County, the Social Democrats won only 28.9%, however, due to the the university town of Uppsala.

The other counties of inland central Sweden are, somewhat like Norrland, historically working-class industrial areas – specifically the Bergslagen, an old iron ore mining district straddling parts of Västmanland, Örebro, Värmland and Dalarna counties. The region is dotted with small industrial centres (mostly based around the iron and steel industries) and traditional left-wing SAP strongholds such as Borlänge (Dalarna County, 37.3% S), Avesta (Dalarna County, 41.8% S), Hedemora/Långshyttan (Dalarna County, 35.1% S), Ludvika (Dalarna County, 40.6% S), Fagersta (Västmanland County, 45% S), Söderfors (Uppsala County, 55.3% S), Surahammar (Västmanland County, 45.4% S), Hallstahammar (Västmanland County, 45% S), Karlskroga (Örebro County, 44.7% S), Degerfors (Örebro County, 51.2% S), Ljusnarsberg (Örebro County, 42% S), Filipstad (Värmland County, 46.2% S), Hagfors (Värmland County, 54.1% S), Munkfors (Värmland County, 58.1% S), Kristinehamn (Värmland County, 41.2% S), Arvika (Värmland County, 39.4% S), Oxelösund (Södermanland County, 44.1% S), Eskilstuna (Södermanland County, 35.5% S) and Nyköping (Södermanland County, 34% S). Although the left remained far ahead and the right did very poorly in these towns, SAP’s performance was comparatively poor – in most of the aforecited localities, S (and V, which is strong in some of these areas as well) lost votes compared to the 2010 election, while the far-right SDs did very well. SD won 16.8% in Dalarna County (winning 20% in Ludvika, 19.4% in Avesta, 17.7% in Borlänge), 15.1% in Södermanland County (with peaks at 20.5% in Vingåker and 16.6% in Eskiltuna), 14.8% in Västmanland County (18.6% in Fagersta), 14.4% in Örebro County (23.7% in Ljusnarsberg, 18% in Hällefors) and 12.6% in Värmland County (21.3% in Filipstad, 17.5% in Storfors but only 11.4% in Munkfors and Kristinehamn). The major cities of Västerås, Örebro and Karlstad were also industrial cities in the past – but with a more diversified economy and wealthier population – the Alliance performs better (and SD is weak), although S still won 34.7% in Karlstad, 32.4% in Örebro and 32.5% in Västerås (which had narrowly backed the Alliance in 2010).

As noted above, the prestigious and well-educated university city of Uppsala is weaker ground for the Social Democrats – who placed first, albeit with only 25.9% against 22.3% for M. The Greens (10.6% and third), Left (7.7%) and Feminists (5.6%) all polled very well in the municipality (and even better, naturally, in the city core and the student areas); while the far-right was predictably quite weak (8.1%). In Uppsala Mellersta electoral district, which includes the city core, M won 23% against 21.1% for S and 12.9% for the Greens. F! and V each won 8.1%; these ‘alternative’ leftist parties are especially strong in the student precincts (where F! or the Greens topped the poll), while the Social Democrats are stronger in low-income housing projects in the city’s peripheral regions and the right is strongest in the affluent and pricey inner city core (a spatial pattern repeated in other major cities and towns in Sweden).

Götaland

Southern Sweden – Götaland – is politically diverse. The Social Democrats won Östergotland County with 32.6% against 22.3% for M and 14.4% for SD, with the SAP’s best numbers coming from the industrial cities of Finspång (43.2%), Boxholm (44.1%), Motala (39.8%) and Mjölby (37.7%). The major cities- the Saab manufacturing town of Linköping (29.1% S, narrow Alliance plurality) and the old textile centre of Norrköping (30.9% S) are politically mixed. Norrköping also had a very strong showing from SD (16.3%) thanks to its strong performance in low-income suburban housing projects.

Jönköping County is Sweden’s ‘bible belt’ (or frikyrkolänet) – the free churches, and the associated grassroots movements, are strong in the county; in the Gnosjöregionen in the southwest of the couty, there is also a strong conservative entrepreneurial tradition (Gnosjöandan). The Christian Democrats always win their best results in this county – this year, they won 10.4%, down from 12.9% in 2010. The Social Democrats, with 31.8%, placed first, while M placed second with 20.3%. The far-right placed third with 14.6%; by the looks of the SD numbers in KD strongholds such as Sävsjö (18.7% SD), the far-right must also have taken votes from the Christian Democrats. The left has some strength in railway towns or small industrial centres such as Tranås (36.1% S), Gislaved (35.4% S), Nässjö (33.8% S) as well as parts of Jönköping municipality (30.5% S vs. 21.9% M). The ‘bible belt’ does not spill over into other parts of Småland – in Kronoberg County , KD won only 5% and in Kalmar County only 4.6%; these regions have historically been dominated by the Church of Sweden. The ‘bible belt’ does have some spillover in the Gothenburg archipelago, however – Donsö and Vrångö islands off of Gothenburg, where KD won first with 34.3%, seem to be evangelical fishing communities.

The Social Democrats won the most votes in Kalmar County – 35.5% to M’s 20.4% and SD’s 15.3%; in Kronoberg County – 32.4% to M’s 21.9% and SD’s 15.6% and in Blekinge County – 37.2% to M’s 19.4% and a remarkable 18.6% for SD. Kronoberg County is a largely conservative region, although the centre-left parties won more votes than the Alliance there this year, with a strong rural base for C (9.1%) and the left’s strength usually limited to parts of the county capital of Växjö and the sawmill town of Lessebo (41.5% S). In Kalmar County, the left is considerably stronger – with its strength centered in the small industrial centres of Emmabodda (40.1% S), Hultsfred (39.6% S), Nybro (36.8% S), Västervik (39.3% S) and the shipbuilding and heavy manufacturing city of Oskarshamn (37.8% S) – although the right is usually strong on the island of Öland, in rural non-industrial areas and in the affluent coastal neighborhoods of the city of Kalmar. Blekinge County is the most left-wing county in the south of the country, thanks to solid Social Democratic votes in the shipbuilding coastal cities of Karlskrona and Karlsham and the industrial towns of Olofström and Sölvesborg. All three of these counties have suffered from rural depopulation and, especially so in the case of Blekinge County, the effects of deindustrialization and job losses. The far-right is strong throughout these three counties, both in working-class left-leaning towns and more rural localities which are more right-wing. In Blekinge County, SD polled 25% in Sölvesborg, 21.6% in Ronneby and 19.6% in Olofström. As one might except, SD is weaker in larger cities – or at least those which are wealthier – such as Kalmar (13.1% SD).

The island of Gotland is the Centre Party’s strongest region – it won third place with 13.4%, down about one point from the last election. The Social Democrats, who are strong in Visby – the island’s only major city – and the cement manufacturing town of Slite – placed first on the island with 32.2%, followed by the Moderates with 21.3%. Likely because of the importance of the tourism industry in the region, the far-right won only 8.2% on Gotland. The Centre Party won only 6.2% in urban Visby but 20.7% in the southern half of the island and 16.3% in the northern half.

The Moderates did well in Halland County, winning 27.7% against 28.4% for S and 12.9% for SD. The coastal north of the county – Kungsbacka municipality, where M won 38% to SAP’s 17.1% – includes some very affluent suburbs of Gothenburg. The rest of the county is more on the left – the mill town of Hylte is your typical SAP-stronghold industrial town (38.7% S, with SD in second with 18.5%), while the port cities of Varberg, Falkenberg and Halmstad are more divided – with affluent coastal areas and villages voting for the right, and S strong in working-class and low-income urban neighborhoods.

The Moderates won the city of Gothenburg/Göteborg by a hair – 23.9% to the Social Democrats’ 23.7%, followed by the Greens (9.8%), a weak SD (9.6%), a strong V (9.4% – their second best constituency result), the Liberals (7.2%) and strong Feminists (6.5% – also their second best constituency in Sweden, after Stockholm). However, the red-green parties won a narrow plurality of the votes (42.9% to 39.5%). Like other major cities in Sweden, Gothenburg is obviously a socioeconomically (and thus politically) diverse city. The affluent coastal suburbs of Gothenburg (the city’s most well-off areas) – included in the constituency of Göteborg, Väster (27.4% M to 19.5% S) are solidly right-wing, as are some high-end areas in the Centrum district and other villa suburbs (Skår, Överås, Härlanda). The ‘alternative left’ – especially V – is very strong is the gentrified Majorna-Linné district, which has a young, highly-educated but not very rich population. The alternative left’s strength carries over into the post-war lower middle-class housing projects in Örgrye-Härlanda district, which is also quite young and well-educated. The Social Democrats are especially strong in eastern Gothenburg – in the electoral district covering the city’s east end, SAP won 32.1% against only 17.3% for M, with strong showings from the Left (10.5%) and the Greens (10.2%). The municipal districts of Eastern Gothenburg and Angered mostly include low-income Million Programme housing projects with large immigrant populations (Angered, Gårdsten, Hammarkullen, Hjällbo, Kortedala, Bergsjön), and they’re SAP strongholds with over 50% of the vote – although, as seems to have been the case elsewhere in Sweden, V and the Greens did eat into the SAP’s huge margin in those immigrant neighborhoods. S also won in the Hisingen electoral district, with 29% to the Moderates’ 22.8% and SD’s 12.2% (its best result) – the district is a mix of conservative affluent coastal suburbs, regenerated harbourfront districts, large low-income immigrant-heavy housing projects (Länsmansgården, Biskopsgården and Backa) and older working-class areas.

The Social Democrats won the four other constituencies in Västra Gotäland. They only narrowly won the coastal constituency of Västra Gotäland West, with 27.1% to the Moderates’ 25.6% and SDs’ 13.4%. The constituency is made up of middle-class suburbs of Gothenburg (Mölndal, Härryda, Partille), affluent coastal resort towns (notably in Sotenäs municipality), evangelical fishing communities (with 5.7%, the constituency was KD’s second-best constituency in Sweden, and KD placed first on a number of small islands in the archipelago) and more industrial towns (Lysekil, Uddevalla). SAP won the northern constituency with 32.6% to M’s 20.1% and SDs’ 15.1%; the constituency includes Lerum, a middle-class suburb of Gothenburg which voted M, but also industrial centres (Trollhättan, Lilla Edet), poor inland industrial-tradition towns (Bengtsfors, Åmal, Mellerud, Färgelanda – Socialist towns where SD did well), well-off small towns and rural communities (where C, and, today, SD do well). SAP won the southern constituency by a similar margin, 31.1% to 22.3% for M and 15% for SD. Southern Västra Gotäland includes the old textile country – the city of Borås was one of Sweden’s leading textile towns, while the smaller textile towns of Kinna and Tranemo remain solidly left-wing (while Borås, which S won 31.4% to 23.3%, remains more divided because it has some very affluent central neighborhoods). Finally, the left’s best result in the county came from the eastern constituency, which SAP won 34.6% to 21% for M and 14.8% for SD. The constituency includes right-wing agricultural rural areas and industrial centres (Mariestad, Lidköping, Tidaholm, Tibro).

Skåne/Scania and Malmö

Skåne/Scania is Sweden’s most culturally distinctive region – part of Denmark until 1658 and incorporated  into Sweden only in 1719 – the region has retained a strong regional identity (sometimes expressed politically by a few regionalist movements – such as the Skånepartiet, a party which mixed anti-immigration/anti-Islamism with separatism, which held seats on Malmö’s city council from 1985 to 2006) and, with the proximity to Denmark (made even closer with the Öresund Bridge), a certain Danish influence is still perceptible. Scania, which has more arable land and vast fertile plains, also contrasts geographically with densely forested Sweden. Some Swedes from other parts of the country may poke fun at the region, particularly its rather distinctive politics – which has, in recent years, become closely associated with the great strength of the far-right in the region. This year, SD won its top two results in two Scanian constituencies – 22.2% in Scania North and East (narrow second ahead of M) and 19.3% in Scania West, plus 16.6% in Scania South and 13.5% in Malmö. The Moderates topped the poll in southern Scania – 28.2% to S’ 24.6% and also did well in western Scania (24.5%). In Scania, the SDs are strong fairly uniformly – with peaks in some depressed industrial towns like Bromölla, a left-wing stronghold where SD came a strong second with 28.4%; Örkelljunga, with 26.6%; Svalöv, with 26.4%; Östra Göinge, with 26%; the old mining town (and SAP stronghold) of Bjuv, with 25.7%; Skurup, with 25.1%; and the port city of Trelleborg, with 23.8%.

The Sweden Democrats won their best national result in Sjöbo – placing first with 30% of the vote against 23.7% for S and 23.2% for M (whose support fell by over 11%). A fairly unremarkable exurban town (with an aging population and low educational levels) not far from Malmö, Sjöbo has been a hotbed for right-wing populism for quite some time now: in 1988, Sjöbo’s local government organized a highly controversial referendum in which locals voted against admitting any foreign asylum seekers. The mastermind of that controversial vote (a former C member) founded his own local party, the Sjöbopartiet, in 1991 and went on to become the largest party on council in 1994 and the party has retained a presence on council since then, winning 7.2% and 4 seats this year (a loss of 2 seats) against 20.8% for SD. SD also became the largest party in the neighboring municipality of Hörby, taking 27.4% to S’ 24.9% and M’s 19.5% (down nearly 14% since 2010).

The far-right also did well in the major regional towns of Landskrona, a left-leaning port city (18.8%, SAP won with 37.3% to M’s 19.9%) and Helsingborg, a socioeconomically mixed city with solidly right-wing bourgeois coastal villa suburbs and low-income southern neighborhoods (17.4%, SAP narrowly won with 29.5% to M’s 27.3%). SD also made substantial gains in affluent coastal suburbs and resort towns, where it was weak in 2010: in Båstad, where M’s vote fell by nearly 10 points to 34.7%, SD increased its support from 5.6% to 14.8%. In Höganäs, SD won 14.8%, up 8.4%, while M lost 8.5% (it still placed first with 33.9%). In Vellinge, one of the wealthiest town in Sweden outside of the Stockholm region, SD’s support shot up 9.5% to 16.5%, placing a distant second behind the Moderates, who won 48.6%, down from 59.1% in 2010. While the far-right’s strongest numbers did not come from the most affluent precincts where M wins huge numbers, it nonetheless did gain significant numbers of votes from M defectors.

SD, however, did poorly in the prestigious university town of Lund – it won only 9.2%, a paltry fifth place showing behind M (22.7%), S (22.7%), the Greens (12.3%) and Fp (9.8%). The Feminists, with nearly 6%, also did well, as did V (6.4%).

The red-green won 45.5% to the Alliance’s 34% in Malmö, an old industrial (shipbuilding) city which sometimes gets something of a bad rap, being portrayed by some as a crime-ridden decaying post-industrial city (which is far from the truth, needless to say). In 2010, the Moderates had won more votes than the Social Democrats – 32.6% to 28.7% – a major blow to the SAP in a city which had historically been considered as a Social Democratic stronghold. This year, SAP won 29.3% to M’s 23.2%, with the far-right in third with 13.5%. The Greens won 8.6%, the Left won 7.6% and F! and Fp both took 5.6%. Much like any other major city, Malmö’s voting patterns vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.

The Social Democrats’ best results come from Rosengård, a very poor immigrant Million Programme neighborhood (about 80% of the population are foreign-born), with a peak at 78.7% of the vote for S in Herrgården (the most immigrant-heavy part of the Rosengård – mind you, SAP’s vote is actually down from 87.5% because V polled 11.6%) and about 65-70% in the rest of Rosengård, down some from 2010 because V and Mp seem to have gained some ground. While SD is obviously weak in the heart of Rosengård, it won one of its best results in the city in Almgården, a low-income (white) neighborhood adjacent to Rosengård, which gave 35.6% to SD against 41.9% for S. Other neighborhoods in the city with large immigrant populations – Augustenborg, Nydala, Hermodsdal, Söderkulla, Lindängen, Almvik, Segevång, Holma etc. – are also some of the Social Democrats’ best neighborhoods in the city, with results over 50-60% of the vote in most instances. In low-income neighborhoods or housing projects with lower immigrant populations, SD did best – although this year it also posted some impressive numbers in middle-class suburban areas. The ‘alternative left’ (Mp, V, F!) is very strong in gentrified inner-city areas: formerly working-class areas which are now home to a well-educated but not very rich young population – places such as Sofielund (where you get precincts like this), Sorgenfri, Rörsjöstaden and Möllevången – Malmö’s gentrified, multi-ethnic cultural mecca (where you have precincts with V and F! as the largest parties). The right – especially the Moderates – are strongest, of course, in Malmö’s upper middle-class neighborhoods – Bellevue, Nya Bellevue (over 55% for M and 13.5% for Fp), Hyllieby, Västervång, Fridhem and Västra hammen (the redeveloped harbourfront). The right is also generally the largest bloc in middle-class suburban areas, although in some areas M’s loses were fairly severe.

Local and regional elections

Local and regional elections were held on the same day. While there’s little need to go into detail here, a brief summary of results is presented.

In local (municipal) elections, SAP won 31.2% against 21.6% for M. Although SD expanded its presence on local councils to practically every single kommun in Sweden, it received only 9.3% of the national vote. C won 7.9%, the Greens won 7.8%, Fp won 6.6%, V won 6.4%, KD won 4%, F! won 1.2% and other (local) parties – which are strong in some municipalities – won 4.1%.

In Stockholm, which had a bourgeois majority since 2006, the red-greens and F! won a majority – 53 seats (24 S, 16 Mp, 10 V, 3 F!) against 42 for the right (28 M, 9 Fp, 3 C, 2 KD) and 6 for SD, which wins its first seats in the city council. In terms of vote shares, M remained the largest party in the capital with 27.2% (-7.2%), followed by S with 22% (-0.6%) and the Greens (14.3%, +0.5%). V also made gains, gaining 2 seats and 1.5% to reach 8.9%. C made minor gains in the vote share (+0.7% to 4.7%) and held its 3 seats (after having been absent from the capital’s city council from 1998 to 2006, it won 1 seat in 2006 and 3 in 2010). SD won 5.2%, up from 2.6% in 2010.

In Gothenburg, however, the red-green majority lost its narrow one-seat absolute majority but retained a plurality of seats. Together, S+Mp+V won 37 seats, down from 41, due to severe loses by the Social Democrats (down 7% and 5 seats to 22.4% and 20 seats) and gains by F!, which gained 3 seats on the back of 4% of the vote. V, with 9.4% and 8 seats, is up 1 seat from 2010. The Alliance won 30 seats (20 M, 3 KD, 7 Fp), SD doubled its presence from 3 to 6 members and a local anti-congestion charge party which emerged in 2010 held its 5 seats.

In Malmö, governed by the left since 1994, the left-wing parties expanded their majorities despite loses for SAP and sizable gains by SD. Together, the red-greens and Feminists won 35 seats, up from 31 in 2010, against only 17 for the Alliance, which lost 4 members. The far-right won 13.1% and 9 seats, up 2 seats. The main winners were SAP’s allies on the left – V won 8.5% (+3.3%) and 6 seats, its best result in local elections in the city; the Greens won 8.6% and 6 seats, up 1 seat from 2010. The Feminists, who won 3.2%, elected 2 councillors. A pensioners’ party represented since 1998 lost both of its seats.

The left also gained Uppsala, which the right had held since 2006. The red-greens and Feminists won 44 seats against 32 for the Alliance and 5 for SD, a loss of 9 seats for the Alliance and a gain of 6 for the left and 3 for SD. All four left-wing parties made gains, with strong results for the Greens (13.1% and 12 seats, +1) and V (8.7% and 8 seats, +2), although SAP also gained support (26.8% and 22 seats, +1). The Moderates, however, fell over 9 points and lost no less than 8 seats, from 23 to 15.

The minority red-green coalition in Västerås was returned with a one less seat (lost by SAP) while SD doubled its presence from 3 to 6 members. The right lost 2 seats. The left holds 29 seats to the right’s 26. The left retained Örebro with a reduced majority, in Linköping the Alliance lost its absolute majority and stands at 36 seats against 37 for the left and 6 for SD, in Jönköping, the governing Alliance-Green majority held on despite loses to SD and in Norrköping, the red-green government lost its majority. In the Scanian towns of Landskrona and Helsingborg, very strong results by SD (11 and 10 seats respectively) leaves both blocs with weak minorities, with the incumbent Fp+M+Green minority in Landskrona and the Alliance minority in Helsingborg in bad shape. In Lund, the right suffered major loses and the left (with F!) lack a majority but are now much larger than the right (the balance being held by SD’s 5 seats and 4 seats for a new local party). Umeå, finally, remains the most left-wing major city in Sweden with 42 seats against 21 for the right and 2 for SD. The local Marxist Arbetarpartiet, a splitoff from a Trot party which gained seats in 1998, won 2 seats – up 1 from 2010.

In the Landsting elections, S won 32.9% nationally against 21.5% for M and 9.1% for SD. The Greens won 7.2% and V won 7.1%. The incumbent red-green majorities held their majorities in Blekinge (where SD now has 7 out of 47 seats), Dalarnas (in coalition with a local healthcare party), Gotland, Jämtland, Kalmar, Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Västmanland and Örebro. In Västra Götaland, the red-green minority now holds 72 seats (-1, gains by V and Mp but loses by SAP) against 63 (-4) for the right and 14 for SD (+4). In Gävleborg County, the S+Mp+C coalition also lost its majority but would hang on with a decent-ish minority. In Södermanland, the S+Fp+Mp coalition lost its majority (30 seats vs. 4 V, 21 right, 8 SD and 8 local party). The Alliance lost its majority in Kronoberg County (25 seats vs. 30 for the left and 6 for SD), Uppsala County (where the left gained a clear majority) and Östergötland County (where the left is just 1 seat short of an absolute majority, as the right’s local ally lost all 8 seats and SD went from 4 to 10 seats). In Västernorrland, the broad Alliance-Green-local healthcare party coalition has lost its majority as the healthcare party disbanded, M lost 7 seats, SD gained 6 seats and SAP – with 48% of the vote – is just a seat short of an absolute majority on its own. In Värmland County, a similar incumbent coalition lost its absolute majority, but with 38 out of 81 seat, it may govern with a minority (although a red-green coalition would also work) with SD holding the balance of power with 7 seats. In Halland, the incumbent Alliance-Green majority retained its absolute majority despite major gains by SD (from 3 to 7 mandates), but in Jönköping an Alliance-Green coalition was reduced to a minority (2 seats short) due to major gains by SD (from 4 to 9 seats).

In Scania, governed by an Alliance-Green coalition since 2006, the right suffered substantial loses as SD made major gains. Overall, M, the largest party in 2010, lost 8.6% and 13 seats, falling from 48 to 35. The Liberals, who had 12 seats in 2010, are now left with only 9. Despite a one-seat gain by the Greens, who won 6.7% and 11 seats, and no seat loses by the small C and KD, the Alliance-Green coalition is left with 67 seats, down 15 seats. The SAP and Left hold 59 seats, a gain of 6 seats – SAP returned as the largest party with a solid 32.4% (+1.8% and 51 seats) while V also made gains, from 6 to 8 mandates. The major winners were, of course, the far-right in their stomping ground: SD won 14.5%, up 5.3%, and now stands as the kingmaker with a hefty 23 seats – up from 14 in 2010 and 10 in 2006.

In Stockholm County, governed by the Alliance since 2006, the right-wing parties lost their absolute majority but may govern as a minority. The Moderates lost 14 seats and 8.6%, although with 28.2% they remained the largest party. The Social Democrats won 26.4% and 41 seats, a gain of 2. The Left, with 12 seats and 7.7%, gained 2 members and 1.5%; the Green vote remained stable at 10% and they held their 15 seats. The Liberals, with 8.2%, lost 1.1% and 2 seats (down to 13); but C and KD gained 1 and 2 seats respectively. SD won 5.9%, a 3% gain which is enough to put them above the 3% threshold in regional elections and gives them their first 9 seats on the Landsting.

SD is now represented in every single Landsting.

Ontario 2014

Provincial elections were held in Ontario (Canada) on June 12, 2014. All 107 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (ridings) were up for reelection.

In 1999, Premier Mike Harris’ Conservative government reduced the number of seats in the provincial legislature from 130 t0 103 and aligned the borders of the new provincial ridings with those of the province’s federal ridings. Ontario’s provincial ridings were redistributed in 2005, increasing the number of seats to 107. In southern Ontario, the borders match up with the federal ridings of the 2003 redistribution. However, in northern Ontario, which lost one seat in the 2003 federal redistribution, the provincial redistribution in 2005 opted to retain the old borders – meaning that northern Ontario’s 11 provincial ridings still correspond to the 1996 federal redistribution (with one exception). Federally, the 2013 redistribution, which will be first used for the 2015 federal elections, increased the number of federal seats in Ontario from 106 to 121. It is unclear whether or not there will be a provincial redistribution during the term of the upcoming Legislative Assembly.

This election came over a year early, because the Liberal minority government fell after both opposition parties announced that they would not support the government’s budget tabled in early May 2014. Premier Kathleen Wynne formally asked the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the legislature and call an election for June 12.

Background

The Ontario Liberals have been in power since 2003 – they won reelection with a second majority in 2007 but they were reduced to a minority government in the October 2011 election. The Liberal government has had a remarkably long shelf life, especially for a government which rarely was very popular or at least enthusiastically supported by voters.

Dalton McGuinty led the Ontario Liberal Party to a large victory in the 2003 provincial election, after 8 years of Progressive Conservative (PC) governments under Premiers Mike Harris (1995-2002) and Ernie Eves (2002).

The Tories themselves had swept into power in 1995, on the back of five years of Premier Bob Rae’s woefully unpopular New Democratic Party (NDP) government. Mike Harris ran on a populist, anti-government platform – the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ – which proclaimed that government was broken, and promised to create over 700,000 jobs, cut personal income taxes by 30% and reduce the size and role of the provincial government. Uncharacteristically for a party which had hitherto been known for its moderate, pragmatic and inoffensive centrist managerialism under the ‘Big Blue Machine’ governments (the PCs ruled Ontario from 1943 to 1985), the Harris PC government ruled very much from the right. It cut taxes, balanced the budget, slashed public spending, repealed NDP ‘job-killing’ labour legislation, introduced workfare programs, cut social assistance benefits, deregulated the energy market (it stopped short of privatizing Ontario Hydro, but split it off and opened the market to competition), undertook a massive programs of forced municipal amalgamations (which led to the creation of large single-tier metro municipalities for Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and other urban centres), laid off public servants (including nurses), closed some hospitals and downloaded the costs of many programs on the municipalities. Harris’ legacy remains complicated – depending on who you ask, he may be painted either as a visionary who set the economy straight after the NDP ‘disaster’ or as a heartless monster whose slash-and-burn policies led to higher poverty and inequality.

At any rate, after Harris was reelected to a second term in 1999, his government’s popularity dwindled as a result of a series of unpopular policies and crises (notably the Walkerton tragedy, where 7 people died from e. coli. contaminated water, which was largely blamed on the Conservatives’ deregulation of water testing and cuts to inspection services). After Harris’ retirement, his successor, Ernie Eves, signaled a return to a more moderate and less confrontational style of Ontarian conservatism. He cancelled the planned privatization of hydro and deferred tax breaks for corporations and private schools; but the PCs remained in the ditch due to an uptick in hydro prices after deregulation, cabinet ethics scandals and the presentation the budget at the headquarters of Frank Stronach’s Magna International (for which Eves’ government faced a contempt motion).

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, who had been defeated by Harris in 1999 despite a coalescing of anti-Harris support around the Liberals, were the favourites to win the 2003 election. The PC’s attempts to flash-polarize the election against the Liberals, which had worked well in 1995 and 1999, failed as most voters sought change and others were turned off by the Tories’ negativity (including, famously, a bizarre PC press release which called McGuinty an ‘evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet’). The Liberals ran on a fairly bland and centrist managerial platform emphasizing protection of public education and healthcare (smaller class sizes, reducing wait times in hospitals), good fiscal management, environmental protection, freezing taxes (no tax cuts, but a clear promise not to raise them) and generally giving the image of being a positive change after Tory divisiveness. It worked, as the Liberals won a majority government with 72 seats (and 46%) against 24 (and 35%) for the PCs.

McGuinty’s government more or less lived up to the general flair of the Liberal campaign, but he quickly broke key a Liberal campaign pledge not to raise taxes by imposing a new health premium in their very first budget – which the government argued was needed because of a ‘hidden deficit’ inherited from the Tories and the Liberals’ policies of reducing wait times and improving treatment in hospitals. Although the Liberals would continue to be dogged by their first broken promise, which earned them the epithet ‘lieberals’ from their strongest opponents, the first McGuinty government managed to remain relatively popular as the economy still sailed quite smoothly and the provincial government had achievements to its records (balanced budgets from 2005-6smaller class sizes, investments in education and healthcare, investments in public transit, child benefits, successful negotiations with public sector unions, environmental policies).

In the 2007 campaign, the Liberals faced criticism from the NDP and the PCs (now led by John Tory, who set the PCs on a moderate Red Tory course) for broken promises and other weaknesses in their record. The PCs moderate campaign targeted the unpopular ‘health premium’ (which they promised to repeal) and McGuinty’s “spending spree” (public spending had indeed grown dramatically since 2003) but themselves promised more money for public education and healthcare and to clean up the environment. The NDP promised better healthcare services (also including a repeal of the health tax), a post-secondary tuition fee freeze and excellence in schools. Given broken promises and other issues, the Liberals were vulnerable going into the campaign, but they ran a very strong campaign which successfully turned one minor plank of the PC platform into the defining election issue – Tory’s pledge to extend public funding to faith-based schools (under Ontario’s constitutionally-entrenched separate schools, the province funds English and French Catholic schools in addition to English and French public, non-denominational schools). It was very much of a wedge issue (only the Green Party opposed the status-quo, by promising to create a single public school system), but it divided and dragged down the PCs – fatally. The Liberals were reelected with a second majority, winning 71 seats (down only 1) and 42.3% against only 26 for the PCs (and 31.6%) and 10 seats (16.8%) for the NDP.

The Liberals’ second term proved significantly tougher for them, as the government faced an increasing number of scandals and the economic recession which began setting in after 2008. Ontario has been hard-hit by the recession – the province’s manufacturing-driven and export-oriented economy has been badly hurt by subdued domestic activity and declining demand from the US. The province’s economy took a hit (-3.2% recession in 2009) and government finances were deep in the red due to decreased revenues – the Ontario government posted a large $3.9 billion deficit in 2008-9, which grew to $19.3 billion (3.2% of GDP) in 2009-10. The province became heavily indebted as a result, from 28% of GDP in 2008-9 to 36% at the time of the 2011 election (and 40% this year). After tax cuts in the 2009 budget, the government was unable to offer very many goodies and tax reforms in following years, although it tried its hand at fiscal stimulus before turning towards more restraint after 2011 (although the government resisted austerity and chose to support public services over deficit elimination, projected for 2017-8). Employment-wise, Ontario lost many jobs during the recession, with unemployment hitting 9%, but the Liberals later insisted that Ontario’s recovery from the recession had been more robust than that of its Canadian and US neighbors.

Some of the government’s policies were controversial and unpopular. Beginning in 2009, Ontario transitioned towards the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a single 13% sales tax which merged the provincial and federal sales tax; consumers largely disliked the measure because it generally meant higher prices, but Ontario’s HST did not face the same kind of populist, bottom-up anger which led to British Columbia’s HST being repealed by voters in a referendum. The McGuinty government placed heavy emphasis on green, renewable energies and, with the Green Energy Act in 2009, the Liberals made significant investments to support new renewable technologies and promised that their green policies would create over 50,000 jobs. However, job creation has been far below target and the Tories pummeled the government for higher hydro bills.

The Liberals faced their toughest election yet in 2011, with a weaker and more unpopular record than in 2007 and enough ammunition for the NDP and PCs to attack the government from all sides. The PCs, which had shifted back towards the right and populism under Tim Hudak (elected in 2009), relentlessly attacked the McGuinty government for its several tax increases (and promised tax cuts), skyrocketing hydro bills, growing bureaucracy and shabby economic/jobs record. It promised lower taxes, HST breaks on energy bills, downsizing the bureaucracy, cut red tape, cut corporate taxes, a balanced budget with spending cuts but also more investments in healthcare and education. The NDP, under new leader Andrea Horwath, also had a populist campaign – from the left. Horwath promised to remove the HST from daily essentials (electricity, heating and gas), regulate gas prices, freeze transit fares, reduce hydro bills by cutting CEO pay, stop corporate tax giveaways, reward companies which create jobs in Ontario, protect domestic industries and natural resources, cut ER wait times by half, tackle growing healthcare costs shouldered by patients and cut wasteful spending.

The Liberals ran a cautious, centrist campaign built on the notion that they had a ‘good story to tell’ as a government – in terms of higher educational achievement, strong economic recovery, the innovations in green technologies and protecting public healthcare. The general gist of the platform is summed up with its insipid title ‘Forward. Together’ – more or less, keep doing what we’re doing with a few added promises (full-day KG – a landmark initiative of the government; a 30% off post-secondary tuition grant; continuing to attract new businesses and foreign investment) and lots of stuff about ‘preparing for the future’. The Liberals were seriously in the ditch following the May 2011 federal election, which saw their more hapless and incompetent federal counterparts take a thumping and place third for the first time. However, the Ontario Liberals again proved that they had a strong machine, and they roared back to make it a close race – never missing a chance to attack the PCs by tying them to Mike Harris, and taking advantage of voter unease with Hudak’s hard-hitting plan (the Liberals alleged there was a $14.8 billion ‘hole’ in the PC platform), Hudak’s gaffes and his penchant for cheap soundbites (the PC campaign eventually repeated ‘tax grab’ and ‘high hydro bills’ at every opportunity).

As in May 2011, voters opted to stick with ‘experienced and proven government’ in tough economic times, and the Liberals were reelected – although they were reduced to a minority and the party suffered major loses in parts of the province. McGuinty’s Liberals won 37.7% and 53 seats (falling one seat short of a majority), against 35.5% and 37 seats for the PCs and 22.7% and 17 seats for the NDP. Turnout fell to only 49%.

Economic growth slowed to 1.4% in 2012 and 1.2% in 2013, although growth should increase to 2.1% this year. The provincial government has been forced to deal with, since 2008-2009, a very large deficit and ballooning public debt. The 2013-2014 deficit projection is $11.3 billion, up from a $9.2 billion deficit in 2012-2013; the province’s debt has continued increasing. The size of Ontario’s debt and deficit has led some fiscally conservative economists to liken Ontario to California and Greece. Economist Don Drummond was appointed to lead a commission to examine the province’s finances, which reported in February 2012 and called on policy-makers to take tough actions (austerity measures) or else Ontario would face dangerous runaway debts and deficits. Some of Drummond’s recommendations – such as limiting spending increases in education and healthcare, scrapping full-day KG, increasing class sizes, eliminating sector-specific subsidies (notably for green energy) and reduced public sector benefits – went against the Liberals’ traditional platform, and they chose to silently ignore them.

The Liberal government introduced a severe austerity-minded budget in 2012, including very tight control of public expenditures and a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees (including teachers and doctors). The PCs rejected the budget out of hand, claiming it did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The Liberals were forced to reach a compromise with the NDP. In April, the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes, although in June the province seemed to be on the verge of an election when the NDP and the PCs started voting against key planks of the budget. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP blinked and abstained on the final vote, allowing the minority government to survive its first supply vote.

The government’s decision to impose a two-year pay freeze on public employees was met by strong opposition from teachers and their unions. In September 2012, the Liberals – with PC support – passed the very controversial Bill 115 (‘Putting Students First Act’) which severely limited teachers’ right to strike and imposed the two-year pay freeze (along with less benefits). There were rolling one-day strikes by elementary school teachers throughout the province in early and mid-December. The government and the unions finally reached agreement shortly after the bill’s December 31 deadline, and Bill 115 was repealed in January 2013. However, elementary and high school teachers promised province-wide one-day walkouts until the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the walkouts illegal.

To make things worse, McGuinty’s Liberals were constantly dogged by various high-profile scandals which have seriously undermined the government’s legitimacy and popularity. In December 2011, the government was drawn into the Ornge (the province’s air-ambulance service) scandal, after allegations of financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers and kickbacks. It was later shown that the McGuinty government had wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in Ornge and had turned a blind eye to earlier reports of corruption.

However, the most damaging scandal has been the power plants scandal. In 2009, the Liberal government, which had closed down two polluting coal-powered power plants in southern Ontario approved the construction of two new natural gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, two suburban communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – a key electoral battleground. However, the plants faced the opposition of local residents, which forced the Liberals to cancel the Oakville plant in October 2010. In September 2011, a month before the elections and facing a strong challenge – notably in Mississauga – from the Tories and the NDP, the Liberals cancelled the Mississauga power plant. The Oakville cancellation cost $40 million and the Mississauga cancellation cost $190 million. Today, the total cost for the cancellation of two plants – which includes the need to build two new plants to replace them – could be $600 million.

The Liberals were reelected in October 2011, and held seats in Mississauga and Oakville. In the summer of 2012, the emboldened PCs and New Democrats called on Liberal energy minister Chris Bentley to hand over all documents related to the gas plant cancellations, which he refused to do, until September 2012. In early October, Bentley was facing an opposition motion which would hold him in “contempt of Parliament” – a very serious and rare offence which might have meant jail time for him.

The power plant scandal was one of the major factors which led Premier McGuinty to announce his surprise resignation on October 15, 2012. However, at the same time, the outgoing Premier prorogued Parliament – effectively killing off the opposition’s contempt motion.

The Liberal leadership election on January 26, 2013 opposed six candidates – the top three being former MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, incumbent cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne and former provincial cabinet minister and former federal Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy. Kathleen Wynne, considered as being on the left of the party, won on the third ballot at the convention, with 57% against 43% for Pupatello.

The Liberals, who had dropped to third place and oscillating in the low-to-mid 20s, saw their support increase considerably after Wynne’s election, shooting into second or first place and over 30% – in some cases over 35%. There were rumours – unfounded – that Wynne would seek a mandate of her own and take advantage of her honeymoon. She did not.

In May 2013, the NDP once again backed the Liberals’ 2013 budget, which included a few NDP-influenced goodies (15% cut in auto insurance, new funding for youth jobs etc) while continuing with the government’s stated intent to achieve a surplus in 2017-2018. Two of the NDP’s three post-budget demands were satisfied by the Liberals. The gas plant scandal continued to hurt the Liberals, with recent revelations of Liberal cover-ups or attempts to intimidate the Speaker. Wynne struggle to shake off the perception that she was only a new face on the McGuinty Liberal government, rather than a clear break with McGuinty’s tainted legacy.

In her first electoral test as Premier, she faced five by-elections in August 2013, all in Liberal-held ridings. The Liberals lost three of these seats – two (London West and Windsor-Tecumseh) to the NDP and one (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in Toronto) to the PCs. But because the PCs failed to gain at least one of London West, Ottawa South or Scarborough-Guildwood (three ridings in which they stood a strong chance), the Liberals could find a silver lining while questions about Hudak’s leadership abilities popped up again. In February 2014, the Liberals lost another seat in a by-election to the NDP – Niagara Falls, but because the Liberals had given up on the seat long ago and that the PCs were the most likely candidates to gain the seat, it was also interpreted as a mediocre result for Hudak. That same day, the PCs narrowly held Thornhill, an affluent and plurality-Jewish GTA riding held by the PCs since 2007.

In September 2013, Premier Wynne dared the PCs and NDP to cause a snap election but privately confided that she had little desire to go to the polls in the fall. PC leader Tim Hudak, who had been clamoring for a rematch since day one, continued hounding on the government but also directed some of his fire to the NDP, who had collaborated with the Liberal government and propped it up on several occasions. Hudak accused NDP leader Andrea Horwath of propping up a corrupt and discredited government, unwilling to bring about change. However, Hudak faced trouble in PC ranks. Following the 2013 by-elections, there were local and isolated but well publicized grumbling in party ranks over Hudak’s leadership and isolated demands for a leadership review. Later, Hudak was forced to dump his finance critic, Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman amid a scandal and he removed vocal hard-right ‘maverick’ MPP Randy Hillier from the frontbench.

By early 2014 there was a widespread feeling that the Liberals are running on borrowed time. Most assumed that the government would fall on its May 2014 budget – the PCs would vote against no matter its contents, while the NDP might prove unwilling to extend the Liberals’ lease on government for the third budget in a row. One issue which strained relations between the Liberals and the NDP was the question of new tolls or fees to fund public transit: the Liberal government, promoting upgrades to public transit in Toronto and Hamilton, supported new tolls/taxes to raise revenue; the NDP has warned that they would stand against that. Facing attacks from Hudak in propping up the Liberals since 2012, Horwath came out more determined, saying that she is “seeking the job of Premier”.

On May 1, the Liberals presented their budget, which, knowing that it would likely be defeated, also doubled up as an early election manifesto. Fiscally, the government announced a larger deficit in 2014-5 than in 2013-4 ($12.5 billion, up from $11.3 billion – but the government has undershot its deficit targets for 5 years in a row) and a record-high debt level (40.3% of GDP). The Liberals promised a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. Despite the challenging environment, the Liberals announced several major initiatives. Chief among them was the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), a defined-benefit plan which would top-up the federal Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for employers/employees who do not
have existing registered pension plans with contributions of 1.9% for employers and employees on earnings of up to $90,000. The Liberals proposed the ORPP after Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government refused to enhance the CPP. As expected, the Liberals confirmed a $29 billion transportation fund for transit development in the GTA/Hamilton and the rest of Ontario, which would be funded through existing taxes, borrowing, an increase in the aviation fuel tax. Other government announcements included an increased in child benefits (and their indexation to inflation), a 1% increase in social assistance rates, wage hikes for early childhood education and personal support workers, a 10-year $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract investments, remove the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills (the charge was introduced by Harris in 1998 to pay off the debts of Ontario Hydro) to ‘lower the rate of increase’ in hydro bills, raising the minimum wage to $11 and indexing it to inflation in 2015 and $80-million/year for five years toward a federal-provincial affordable housing program. The budget measures would be funded by ‘asset optimization’ (asset sales), income tax hikes for high-incomes (a 1% increase for incomes from $150k to $220k, and lowering the threshold for the top rate from $514k to $220k) while the government announced it would strive to meet more restraint recommendations from the Drummond report. Unsurprisingly for a pre-electoral budget, the 2014 budget was less austere and less focused on restraining spending growth than the 2012 and 2013 budgets.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s announcement that she would not support the government’s budget provided the trigger for a snap election which had been in the offing for a long time.

Parties and Issues

Ontario’s 2014 election opened as one of the most open-ended and unpredictable election battles in years (granted, 2011 was similar) – the Liberals, PCs and NDP all were in serious contention; even the third-party NDP was optimistic after gaining 4 seats in by-elections since 2011, and polls indicated the NDP now had a fighting chance at official opposition or even government. All three parties had advantages and disadvantages going into the election. Pollsters disagreed throughout the campaign on what was going on, creating a wild ride of emotions for supporters on all sides.

The Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) has formed government since 2003 in the province. The Liberals’ recent power in provincial politics, however, is fairly recent. The provincial Liberals were left decimated after Liberal Premier Mitch Hepburn (1934-1942) – something of a hubristic blowhard (but a complex and fascinating politician) – picked a fight with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King after 1935 and during World War II, which led to the division of the party and its landslide defeat in 1943, when the Liberals fell to third behind the PCs and the left-wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, the modern-day NDP’s ancestor). Between 1943 and 1985, the Ontario Liberals were out of power (and even fell into third twice – in 1948 and 1975), becoming largely a disorganized and directionless party left with a reduced base in rural southwestern Ontario (and with French-Catholic voters). It is often said that the Liberals in this era were even to the right of the hegemonic PCs, although this is not a universal rule. In 1985, the Liberals finally regained the initiative with the modernizing and progressive leadership of David Peterson, while the Tories had finally run out of steam. The PCs won the most seats in 1985, but Peterson’s Liberals were able to form a government thanks to a confidence and supply pact with the NDP for a 2-year period. Peterson’s first term in office saw passage of several progressive reforms (pay equity, eliminated extra billing by doctors, penalties for polluters, campaign finance reform, French-language services etc), which allowed the Liberals to win reelection in a landslide (with a majority mandate) in 1987. The second term saw a marked slowdown in reformist zeal, and the Liberals were hurt by problems in auto insurance and rent control, a Liberal financing scandal, a worsening economy and the Canadian constitutional crises of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Neverthless, Peterson made the ill-advised decision to call a snap election in September 1990, largely motivated by the desire to win reelection before the recession kicked in. Instead, however, the mood quickly turned against him for opportunistically calling a snap election, and the Liberals suffered a defeat of historic proportions at hands of the NDP. Widely expected to win in 1995 after Bob Rae’s unpopular government, the mood again turned against them, because of a weak and indecisive leader often found to be flip-flopping. The Liberals lost to the PCs in 1995, and again in 1999 – under McGuinty – despite strategic voting on the left for the Liberals against the PCs.

Like most successful Liberal parties in Canada, the OLP is a big-tent party, both in terms of voter support and internal factions within the party. It evens out, ideologically, to a vaguely centre-left or centrist stance, often derided by critics as being bland and insipid. Kathleen Wynne, who is the first woman premier of the province and the first openly lesbian head of government in Canada, hails from Toronto – so, unsurprisingly, she’s rather on the (progressive, urban) left of the party. In an encouraging sign, her sexual orientation was thankfully never an issue in this election.

Wynne took the party a bit to the left, although still presenting itself in the centre – the Liberals sold themselves as the ‘balanced and realistic approach’ against those (the NDP and PCs) who would endanger the recovery ‘radical schemes and reckless choices’. However, the budget was widely described by commentators as a left-wing budget (some said ‘NDP-friendly’) while left-wing Liberals praised Wynne for a manifesto which courageously defended the role of government and taxation in a global environment of austerity. The Liberals, like in 2011, did believe that they had a ‘good story to tell’, but the campaign was far less retrospective than that of 2011 – largely because it was imperative for Wynne to distance herself from McGuinty’s tainted legacy and break free from the ‘McGuinty-Wynne’ label which Hudak assigned to her government.

The Liberal manifesto, unsurprisingly, largely consisted of new policy announcements made with the 2014 budget or reiterating existing government policies. From the budget, the Liberals especially focused on the $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract new investments across all sectors; the ORPP to ensure a secure and predictable retirement income beginning in 2017; a 10-year $130 billion plan for infrastructure investments (which includes the $29 billion for transit, for major public transit projects in the GTA, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo etc) notably for roads, highways and bridges across Ontario and for upgrades to schools, hospitals and universities/colleges; eliminating the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills; the increase in and indexation of child benefits and the increase in and indexation of the minimum wage.

Other promises and reiterated policies included full implementation of full-day KG; continuing the 30% off tuition grant; increasing apprenticeships and training opportunities; lowering auto insurance rates; lowering electricity prices for low-income families; implementing a new anti-poverty strategy; expanding child care; promoting new methods of learning (experimental learning, technology in schools, global-oriented learning, fostering new skills); reducing wait times in healthcare; supporting seniors (home care, increased pay for personal support workers, a new palliative and end-of-life care strategy, seniors activity and community grants program); encouraging eco-friendly ‘smarter growth'; tackling climate change (Ontario finally shut down its last coal-powered power plant); greater government accountability and protecting consumers.

Economically, the Liberal Party planned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. It reiterated the budget’s tax changes including income tax hikes for high-incomes, increasing the aviation fuel tax but maintain Ontario’s low competitive corporate tax rate. The Liberals reiterated the government’s policies to make public sector pensions ‘more sustainable’ and to limit spending growth.

The Liberals also took on the mantle of ‘defending Ontario’s interests’ against the federal government – criticizing the federal government for not giving Ontario “its fair share” and advocating for a national drug insurance policy and child care program. Relations between the Ontario Liberals and the federal Conservatives have become increasingly testy, with federal cabinet ministers (some of whom are former Ontario provincial cabinet ministers or MPPs from the Harris era) criticizing the provincial Liberal government.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) was Ontario’s natural governing party for most of the post-war era, governing Ontario without interruption between 1943 and 1985 (prior to that, the Conservatives also governed from 1905 to 1919 and 1923 to 1934). Prior to the election of Mike Harris to the PC leadership in 1990, the Tories were a largely moderate party – reflecting the soft interventionist tendencies of the party’s Protestant elite supporters. Premier James Whitney (1905-1914) led a progressive conservative administration whose achievements include Ontario Hydro, the Workmen’s Compensation Board and public works but also infamous Regulation 17, which restricted the use of French to the first two years of schooling. In 1943, George Drew led the PCs to a narrow victory on an unusually radical ’22 points program’ (including progressive labour legislation, full social security programs) and his victories in 1943 and 1945 (when the PCs led an anti-communist, red-baiting campaign to destroy the CCF and socialism) laid the roots of the Ontario PC dynasty which ruled until 1985. The remarkable longevity of the PCs can be explained by economic prosperity, low-key and inoffensive governments which laid low and followed the public mood, regular turnover in leadership to prevent voter fatigue, a weak and divided opposition, a big-tent party generously backed by big business, a strong electoral machine and policies moulded to the electorate’s taste for centrist managerialism. The PC premiers from this era (Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis) all came from WASP elite backgrounds, were ‘business-like’ managerial leaders and were flexible when required (changing their mind on hospital insurance, medicare, Francophone rights or full funding for Catholic separate schools). While they were unquestionably conservatives (for instance, the PCs were dragged into medicare and federal pensions by the federal Liberals), these premiers all are remembered for some progressive pieces of legislation or interventionist policies – Drew’s labour legislation, Frost’s public works investments, Robart’s recognition of Franco-Ontarian rights and Metro Toronto scheme, Davis’ big education investments, rent controls and piecemeal environmental legislation. The Tories ran out of steam after Davis’ retirement in early 1985, and his replacement by the more rural right-winger Frank Miller. The PCs were also hurt, in the 1985 election, by Davis’ about-face on separate schools with his decision to extend full funding for Catholic separate schools to all grades (hitherto limited to Grade 10, to be expanded to Grades 11 to 13). This decision, which broke with Tory tradition, alienated traditional Protestant Conservative voters in rural Anglo Ontario. The PCs still won the most seats (but not the most votes), but were defeated in the legislature right after it first convened by a Liberal-NDP coalition. In 1987, the PCs were decimated and dropped into third, and made no significant inroads under new leader Mike Harris in 1990. The PCs regained power with Mike Harris in 1995, and were reelected in 1999 but defeated by the Liberals in 2003.

IMG_0569

PC and Liberal signs in Ottawa-Orléans (own picture)

The election of Mike Harris was a sea-change for the PCs. Nevertheless, Ernie Eves and John Tory both represented a shift back to the centre-right Red Toryism of the Big Blue Machine – but Eves was defeated in 2003 and Tory was a gloriously incompetent leader who self-sabotaged the 2007 campaign. Tory failed to win his chosen seat in Toronto in 2007 (defeated by Wynne, as it turns out), but tried to hold on to the PC leadership, until he was defeated by a Liberal candidate in hilarious fashion in a 2009 by-election in a safe Tory seat. Tim Hudak clearly shifted the PCs back to the right – his leadership style has been called a retread of Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution or a ‘Tea Party north’ strategy. Despite performing poorly as a leader in the 2011 election, the PCs still made sufficient gains on the Liberals in that election to allow the PCs to be indulgent on Hudak and allow him to stay on. In the legislature, Hudak was a fiery and virulent opponent of the government – relentlessly attacking it for its fiscal and budgetary woes, ethics problems, countless scandals and alleged mismanagement. He refused to support any Liberal budget since 2011, always clamoring for a snap election and picking on the NDP for propping up the Liberals in 2012 and 2013.

An upbeat and confident Hudak kicked off his 2014 campaign with a heavy focus on job creation – Hudak said he had a “laser-like focus” on job creation. His manifesto, the Million Jobs Plan was very critical of the Liberal record – manufacturing job loses since 2003, emigration to Western Canada, equalization payments (for the first time in Canadian history, Ontario became a ‘have-not’ province because of the bad recession), the record debt, high taxes and ‘wasteful subsidies’ to green energy. The plan was very right-wing, neoliberal and populist, reminiscent of the Common Sense Revolution (some might say even to the right of that!). The manifesto was filled with proposals to reduce the size and role of government and ’empower entrepreneurs and job-creators’.

To encourage private sector job creation (because the PCs strongly reject the idea of government creating jobs), the PCs promised to replace ‘corporate welfare and handouts’ with a 30% corporate tax cut (to make Ontario’s corporate tax rate the lowest in North America); increase opportunities in skilled trades jobs (by abolishing the College of Trades and scrapping apprenticeship rules); cut hydro rates (by eliminating green energy subsidies); cut red tape; reduce government’s role and regulatory powers; allow pension plans to invest in Crown corporations; expand transit and roads in the GTA; reform labour laws to weaken union ‘bureaucracy’ and empower individuals; expand the roles of colleges; refocus universities on STEM subjects (to build a ‘culture of entrepreneurship’) and expand free trade. The PCs ultimately decided against backing controversial ‘right-to-work’ legislation.

The PC plan to reduce the size and role of government was controversial, and especially hard-hitting. The PCs planned to kill the deficit by 2016-7, a year ahead of the Liberals, and made it one of their top priorities. Hudak also delayed personal income tax cuts till after the budget is balanced. In their Million Jobs Plan, the PCs promised to limit government from growing (after the budget is balanced) beyond a fixed percentage of the economy. In the immediate, the PCs pledged to review all government programs, reduce spending (by 6% over 4 years), shrink the cabinet from 27 to 16, implement a two-year pay freeze for all public servants (saving $2 billion), limit public sector benefits (in line with the private sector), cut the public sector by 10% by cutting 100,000 jobs (Hudak promised that vital frontline services wouldn’t be affected), open government services to competition and refocus government on “jobs that only government can and should do”. Hudak mentioned privatizing gambling (the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, OLG) but still regulating gambling.

Healthcare and education, Hudak said, would remain two key government priorities but explained that both needed major reforms to make them sustainable for the future. As in 2011, Hudak targeted the ‘bureaucracy’ in healthcare and education management and promised to empower frontline professionals and local schools, hospitals, teachers and doctors. On healthcare, the PCs promised a new focus on chronic care, expand home care and allow choice and competition (allowing, for example, home care services to be received from the government or another provider). On education, the PCs specific focus was on raising standards and expectations for students, improving math skills and helping kids with special needs. The manifesto also included a verbose and very vague part about ‘protection core education’ which decried spending increases over the past decade and ‘making choices’. Not included in the manifesto, but announced by the party, the PCs planned to increase class sizes, eliminate 9,700 non-teaching positions, reduce the number of early childhood educators in KG. One union estimated, on the base of the PCs’ pledge to implement Drummond’s recommendations for cuts in education, that 19,000 positions in the education sector would be cut.

Obviously, Hudak’s ‘radical’ plan was strongly criticized by both Liberals and New Democrats. The Liberals doubled-down on Hudak’s daring ‘pink-slip pledge’ to lay off 100,000 public servants (and many others wondered how the Tories would create jobs by gutting 100,000 of them to begin with) and attacked the PC platform for its ‘bad math’.

The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP or ONDP) has been a successful third party in Ontarian politics, forming the official opposition on four occasion and forming a majority government once (some may also count Ernest Drury’s 1919-1923 United Farmer-Labour government, as a predecessor of the CCF/NDP). Ontario has been one of the few Canadian provinces which has had a genuine, lasting three-party system (since the 1970s in Ontario’s case), and it has been the NDP’s strongest province outside the West due to the strength of organized labour (the Ontario Federation of Labour, OFL) in the province. The CCF came very close to winning the most seats in 1943 (34 seats to the PCs’ 38), but Drew’s anti-communist, anti-union red baiting campaign in 1945 (or, given the popular vote results, the whims of FPTP) decimated the CCF in 1945 although they regained second in 1948. The CCF/NDP went through a prolonged trough with the early Cold War between 1951 and 1967; in the 1967 election, the NDP finally broke through in 1967 – going from 7 to 20 seats and 16% to 26% – thanks to greater urbanization and concern for social issues. The NDP was very successful under Stephen Lewis’ leadership, becoming the official opposition to a Tory minority government in 1975, after Lewis’ successful campaign targeted sensitive rent issues – which pushed the PC government to adopt rent controls. Despite a strong performance in opposition, the NDP slid back into third in 1977 (in 1975, the NDP won two more seats than the Liberals while in 1977 the NDP lost five seats and was one seat behind the OLP). The NDP did poorly under the more left-wing leadership of Michael Cassidy, but the election of federal MP and urban moderate Bob Rae led the NDP to success in 1985 (25 seats). Rae’s NDP allied with the Liberals for a two-year period, which saw the Liberal government adopt a number of policies advocated by the NDP (pay equity, no extra billing, pollution control, job security, social justice) and the NDP still managed to hold its own in 1987 despite the Liberal sweep (it lost 6 MPPs but its vote actually edged up to 26% as the PCs lost 12% and 36 MPPs).

Bob Rae famously led the NDP to an unexpectedly massive victory in 1990, winning 38% and a 74-seat majority government. Unfortunately for the NDP, Rae took office in the midst of a major recession which saw significant manufacturing job loses and a ballooning provincial debt and deficit ($12.7 billion deficit in 1993-4) and the NDP was quickly forced to swallow its principles and respond with austerity measures (tax increases and spending cuts) which alienated the NDP’s working-class supporters and organized labour. The Rae government’s 1993 Social Contract forced 900,000 public employees to take up to 12 days of unpaid leave (‘Rae days’), which the NDP claimed was a better alternative than mass layoffs as the federal government did and the PCs later did. The NDP’s allies in organized labour, particularly the main public sector union (CUPE) broke with the NDP over the Social Contract, which reopened collective bargaining agreements. The NDP was forced to renege on its landmark promise to nationalize the auto insurance industry. While Rae’s government is largely remembered, fairly or unfairly, for its austerity policies, broken promises and cabinet inexperience; the NDP did also introduce some more left-leaning pieces of legislation: a new labour law made it easier to form a union, gave public servants the right to strike, banned the use of replacement workers in a strike or lockout and increased the minimum wage; it brought in affirmative action; unsuccessfully tried to introduce same-sex civil unions (but it was defeated by 12 NDP rebels and the Liberal’s reversal on the issue after a shock by-election loss to the PCs who had made it an issue) and the government intervened to keep several plants from closing. Nevertheless, none of this was enough to change the negative perception of the government in 1995, and the NDP collapsed to 21% and 17 seats. Rae was succeded by Howard Hampton, a well-meaning but ineffectual leader who steered the NDP back to the left. But the Hampton NDP suffered from the negative perception of the NDP post-Rae, strategic voting for the Liberals against the Tories (in 1999 and 2003, the NDP fell to only 9 and 7 MPPs respectively) and the NDP only began recovering in 2007, which was Hampton’s last election as leader.

Horwath did quite well in 2011, and she became the most popular party leader of the three after the election. Teacher’s unions anger over the Liberals’ Bill 115 mobilized union support for the NDP, which picked up four seats – 3 from the Liberals and one from the PCs – in by-elections in 2012 and 2013. Three of these seats, furthermore, were ridings in which the NDP had not usually been strong in (1990 excluded), so they were considered major successes for the NDP.

The Ontario NDP has stuck to a moderate, pragmatic social democratic agenda for decades. In the 1970s, Stephen Lewis successfully disbanded the radical left minority (The Waffle) in the NDP. Horwath has been widely perceived as being more ‘populist’ – as opposed to urban, progressive and environmentalist (à la Jack Layton or modern federal NDP). She pulled the plug on Wynne’s government, but the Liberals attacked the NDP for opposing a ‘left-wing budget’ and some of the NDP’s allies in organized labour and some Dippers criticized Horwath for not supporting the budget. Liberal commentators claimed that Horwath was ‘moving the party to the right’.

IMG_0560

NDP, Liberal and PC signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

The Horwath NDP’s 2014 platform was certainly nothing radical and retained the gritty, populist tone of the 2011 manifesto. The NDP even talked of ‘rewarding job creators’ – which is often a kind of phrasing associated with the right – although by that Horwath meant offering tax credits to employers who create jobs (equal to 10% of an employee’s salary up to $5,000), cutting the small business tax from 4.5% to 3% by 2016, giving tax credits to companies investing in machinery/buildings/equipment and investing in re-training programs for seniors. The NDP also promised substantial investments in public transit ($29 billion) and infrastructure (highways, and the new mining region in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire). In the bread-and-butter issues which the Horwath NDP has focused on, it promised to take the HST off home hydro bills, reduce auto insurance by 15% (claiming the Liberal concession to the NDP in 2013 on the issue had no effect), provide homeowners with loans to make energy efficient home retrofits (or install solar panels), free undergrad tuition fees (at 2014 levels), make provincial student loans interest-free, invest in childcare spaces and prevent ‘unfair’ increases in natural gas prices. On healthcare questions, the NDP promised to invest money on frontline services and pointed out the Liberals’ waste on Ornge and eHealth. The party pledged to open 50 new 24-hr family health clinics to provide more Ontarians with access to primary care, hire more nurse practitioners to treat and discharge patients in ERs, increase the number of long-term care beds, support families caring for the ill or elderly with a tax credit, attract doctors to under-serviced communities by forgiving student debts and eliminate wait times for seniors. The NDP promised to keep schools open with an ‘open schools fund’, launch a student achievement program, expand dental benefits for low-income children, protect tenants by enforcing building standards and maintenance rules and promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools.

The NDP also made a big issue out of government accountability and ethics – in the debate, Horwath repeated that voters had an alternative to ‘bad math’ (the PCs) and ‘bad ethics’ (the Liberals). The Dippers promised to cap the salaries of public sector CEOs, stop corporate tax ‘giveaways’ by increasing it by 1% (from 11.5% to 12.5%), toughen oversight on government advertising, appoint a Financial Accountability Office, cut hydro bills by merge four hydro agencies and promised $600 million savings thanks to a Minister of Savings and Accountability (no comment!). Like the Liberals, the NDP envisioned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8.

The Green Party of Ontario (GPO) has seen its support oscillate in recent years, pulling a small but not insignificant percentage of the vote. Although the Ontario Greens are one of the more successful provincial Green parties in Canada (along with BC; but that’s largely because many other provincial Green parties are disorganized jokes), having won 8% in 2007, they have never won a seat (they came ‘close’ in 2007, winning 33% and second in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound against 47% for the PCs). Support for the Greens collapsed to 2.9% in 2011. The current leader is Mike Schreiner, who replaced longtime leader Frank de Jong (1993-2009). Ideologically, de Jong was an eco-capitalist and the GPO have been seen as a more centrist/centre-right green liberal party. They have traditionally backed lowering taxes on small businesses and individuals, shifting the burden to polluters and big corporations with new green taxes.

The Greens sold themselves as a fresh alternative with new ideas, depicting the three parties as old, stuck in gimmicks and politicking and in bed with big corporations. The Greens’ manifesto promised to lower payroll taxes on small businesses (by increasing corporate taxes by 1%), greatly expand transit infrastructure, grants to homeowners to invest in energy conservation, save $1.2 to $1.6 billion each year by merging the school boards into a single public system, push for a guaranteed annual income for all citizens (in the meantime, they’d tackle child poverty), protect farmland and clean water, fight to increase royalties for natural resources, close legislative loopholes which threaten communities and create something called a ‘Social Innovation Foundation’ for young adults.

The Greens also ran a full slate of candidates.

Results

Turnout was 52.1%, up from an historic sub-50 low of 49.2% in 2011. Turnout had been steadily declining from 1990 (64%), so this marks the first increase in turnout in over 20 years. However, 52% – barely below 2007 – is now the second-lowest turnout in Ontario history, after 2011. Ontarians have generally not voted in droves in provincial elections, being more interested by federal politics (and thus voting more in federal elections).

Liberal 38.65% (+1%) winning 58 seats (+5)
PC 31.25% (-4.2%) winning 28 seats (-9)
NDP 23.75% (+1.01%) winning 21 seats (+4)
Green 4.84% (+1.92%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (+0.33%) winning 0 seats (nc)

ON 2014

The Liberals were reelected to a fourth term in office and regained their majority in the provincial parliament, which they had lost in 2011. The result was not a total surprise, but the ease with which the Liberals ultimately won a majority was unexpected. The PCs did not do as well as expected, winning only 28 seats and 31.3% of the vote, actually losing over 4 points off of their 2011 result. The NDP did well, winning 23.8% and 21 seats, which is the NDP’s result since 1990. That the gap between first and second in terms of seats (20) was much wider than the gap between second and third (7) was, however, rather unexpected.

All opinion polls from all pollsters (eligible voters) during the Ontario 2014 election campaign (own graph)

All opinion polls from all pollsters (eligible voters) during the Ontario 2014 election campaign (own graph)

The campaign, as noted above, was a wild ride – mostly because pollsters disagreed on where the race stood, and pollsters’ attempts to alter their methodologies in bid to more accurately predict the outcome of the vote on June 12 only added to the confusion. The graph to the right, which looks at all polls from all pollsters during the duration of the campaign, shows how confusing it all was. Who led during the different parts of the campaign depended heavily on the pollster you asked. Ipsos-Reid showed the PCs leading the Liberals in their first four polls, until the Liberals and PCs tied at 36% on June 6. In their final poll, on June 11, the Liberals led the PCs by 2 and the PCs led by the NDP by 1. EKOS, which had daily trackers in June, showed the Liberals leading the PCs until June 5, when the PCs suddenly jumped 4% from the previous day’s rolling sample (30.9% to 34.9%) but then lost another 4 points from June 9 to June 10 (falling from 34.5% to 30.2%), giving the Liberals a solid 6-point lead over the PCs in their last poll. EKOS consistently showed the NDP weak, with no more than 21.5% support in June while they always showed the Greens above 5%. Forum Research, an increasingly reliable pollster in Canada, showed a close race, but the Liberals broke a tie on May 27 and regained a solid lead, leading 41 to 35 in the final poll from the organization on June 11. Like EKOS, Forum showed the NDP weak, and dropping from 22% on May 3 (when the PCs led 38 to 33) to 17% on June 5 before edging back up to 20% on June 11. Abacus showed the Liberals ahead in all but one of their 5 polls during the campaign, with a 35-32 lead on June 10 (and the NDP strong at 26%).

To make matters worse, EKOS, Ipsos-Reid and Abacus actively promoted their new ‘likely voter’ model polls during the campaign. LV polls are common in the US during election season, and they are typically seen as more accurate than registered voters (RV) samples in the last 2 months of the campaign. But they’re new in Canada. The pollsters wanted to use LV models to more accurately capture voters’ enthusiasm for parties and to account for the likelihood of low, 50%-ish turnout. However, EKOS and Ipsos-Reid’s LV models ended up giving two vastly different pictures. EKOS’ LV model awarded ‘points’ to segments based on their likelihood to vote – more points for those who voted federally and provincially in 2011, more points for those who said they were angry or hopeful about Wynne’s government, more points for those who rate their likelihood to vote as 7 (out of 7), more points for those who said they knew the location of their polling station and more points for older voters. Ipsos’ LV details are no longer (if they ever were) available online for free. EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals leading throughout, almost always by large margins.  On June 11, EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals at 42.2% (37.3% in the main sample), the PCs at 35.9% (31.3%) and the NDP at 16.9% (19.2%), while the Greens and ‘others’ were much lower than in the main sample (EKOS tends to overstate Green support). Ipsos-Reid’s LV model, however, showed consistent PC leads throughout – although the size of the PC lead dropped from 14% on May 9 to 6% in their last poll on June 11. Ipsos-Reid’s June 11 LV model showed the PCs at 36% (31% in the main sample) and the Liberals and NDP tied at 30% (33% and 30% in the main sample). Abacus’ last two LV polls showed the Liberals and PCs tied.

While most pollsters agreed that the Liberals were leading, they disagreed about the size of its lead. The pollsters differed wildly on the NDP’s numbers – four final polls on June 11 showed the NDP at 19.2% (EKOS), 20% (Forum), 26% (Abacus) and 30% (Ipsos-Reid)! The PC numbers ranged from 31% to 35% while the Grits’ numbers ranged from 33% to 41% (another wide gap). Most predicted that the Liberals would win a fourth term, and most believed it would be majority. There was clearly some sense that the Liberals could, if lucky, win a majority. At the same time, most people did not want to rule out a Tory surprise entirely. The NDP’s numbers in polls made it unclear whether the NDP would do very well or poorly.

The Liberals ‘led’ – or we have the sense that they did – for most of the campaign, although it remained a very close race with the Tories and many predicted strong results for the Dippers too. The leader’s debate on June 3 did not, in the end, matter much. Wynne struggled in the debate, especially in the beginning as Hudak and Horwath pounded on her for the Liberals’ ethics scandals. Later on, however, Wynne proved much more feisty, in heated exchanges with Hudak. Hudak held his ground well, being able to sell his plan quite well and landing several good blows on Wynne. Horwath also did well. Wynne attacked Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, particularly the big cuts and public sector layoffs he was calling for. Hudak criticized the Liberals’ plan as unrealistic, insisting that Wynne tell him what she would cut in order to balance the budget. Wynne’s poor performance may explain the short-lived PC surge in EKOS and other polls, but it was inconsistent and died off quickly.

Overall, LV models were junk. EKOS overestimated Liberal and PC support, while they badly underestimated the NDP. Ipsos-Reid overestimated the PCs and NDP, and the Liberals did much better than they predicted. The traditional polls did much better – in fact, all pollsters which also had a LV model saw their main sample perform better than the LV model. Angus-Reid was the most accurate – their main model had the Liberals leading the PCs 36 to 32, with the NDP at 26%. Abacus’ eligible and LV models placed second and third, despite the LV model indicating a 36-36 ties between the OLP and PCs. Ipsos-Reid’s eligible and LV models were two of the worst performers, and EKOS’ LV was also worthless.

So, the Liberals won a fourth term. It’s an unprecedented success for the modern Ontario Liberal Party – the last time the Liberals were so successful was between 1871 and 1902, when the Liberals won 9 elections in a row (Oliver Mowat was the early OLP’s most famous Premier, from 1872 to 1896). It is, more significantly, another major comeback for the Liberals. Since 2003, the Liberals have never been wildly popular, and their electoral victories in 2007, 2011 and now 2014 have owed a lot to the weakness of the Conservative opposition. In 2007, John Tory’s incompetence allowed the Liberals to win a huge majority again. In 2011, Hudak’s poor campaign and style allowed the Liberals to stage a comeback, although it was only good enough for a much reduced minority mandate. Nevertheless, the Ontario Liberals have also proven themselves to be good campaigners and tough fighters – regardless of what people think of them or their governing abilities, they’re a strong electoral machine and they know how to win elections (which is something which the PCs seem to have forgotten about).

The 2014 victory – and the majority – is made all the more impressive given the amount of anger for the Liberal government which existed out there. It is, granted, quite possible that much of this anger came from voters who hadn’t voted Liberal in the past elections to begin with. On the basis of the 2013 and 2014 by-elections, the Liberals seemed to be in big trouble. What came out of those results was that the Liberals were practically dead in the water outside of central Toronto, Ottawa and the inner GTA – in southwestern Ontario, the real contest would be between the NDP and PCs, even in Liberal-held seats (see: London West and Niagara Falls by-elections). While the results certainly did show that the Liberal performance was much stronger in the GTA than in, say, southwestern Ontario, the Liberal results province-wide were nowhere near as catastrophic as those of the by-elections. I had already warned, at the time, against taking the by-election results too seriously – history shows that by-elections are fairly poor predictors of general election results. Turnout was lower, and voters drawn to vote in the by-elections between 2011 and 2014 were likely anti-government, anti-Liberal voters. The NDP had the chance to focus and target its resources and manpower on specific ridings in these by-elections, which they did extremely well, but a general election requires a broader strategy and less micro-focus from a major party. The Liberals certainly did not pull all they had in the by-elections, but they went all-out in the general election and their machine worked.

An interesting result, though: all but one of the nine ridings which saw by-elections between 2011 and 2014 ended up sticking with the MPP they had elected in those by-elections.

Kathleen Wynne, in the end, proved many naysayers wrong and ended up as a rather good leader and candidate. Despite Hudak’s attempts to tie Wynne to McGuinty’s tainted legacy, a strategy which seemed to be working in the by-elections, that ‘Wynne-McGuinty Liberals’ failed to stick to the Liberals during the campaign and Wynne was generally good (except in the debate) at avoiding the issue of McGuinty or letting the Liberals’ McGuinty-era scandals hurt her or even the party. Wynne made a good impression on a lot of voters, who saw her as somewhat fresh, reasonable and a decent enough leader. Hudak, critically, failed to make a good impression or, more accurately, improve on his existing unpopularity.

Hudak was the clear loser. The PCs, again, more or less blew their chances at what could have been an easy victory. The ‘Million Jobs Plan’ scared voters away – it was badly crafted policy, which had several holes in it, left many questions unanswered and had all the ingredients in it to mobilize voters against the PCs or to turn swing voters away from them. Granted, Mike Harris won in 1995 on a similarly right-wing platform – but since then, the traumatic Harris era continues to evoke strong feelings with a lot of voters. Additionally, Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan lacked a lot of the elements which made the Common Sense Revolution successful: he did not promise any tax cuts for individuals (but promised major tax cuts for corporations) and he did not really allay fears that healthcare and education would not be cut (although Harris ended up cutting both, the Common Sense Revolution manifesto had pledged not to touch them). Additionally, Hudak was a mediocre communicator who had difficulty selling himself and his plan to voters.

While Tories can say whatever about them being the only ones who told ‘the truth’ about Ontario’s current state, the reality is that campaigning on a platform which focuses heavily on unpopular austerity policies – such as reducing the public sector by 10%, cutting spending and government programs – is a bad idea (even if it is ‘honest’). The austerity must be counterbalanced by appealing promises – like tax cuts for individuals – even if those can later be broken. Hudak’s plan promised job creation (although he never really indicated a target for job creation or a timeline for it), but that proved far too vague to capture voters’ imagination. Hudak, again, let his opponents define him. What stuck were the controversial pledges to cut public sector jobs or the attacks on his platform’s ‘bad math’. There are now indications that PC MPPs and candidates were frustrated with Hudak’s pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, and talk that they found the effect of that controversial promise to be ‘brutal’ and devastating locally. Other Tories, however, said that voters were misled on the issue by the Liberals and the unions.

The result was that, as will be explained in full detail later, the PCs failed to make any gains – in fact, they suffered significant loses – in the province’s key electoral battleground: Toronto and its suburbs. The 905 area code (outside Toronto) is where Ontarian elections are won – the federal Conservatives’ sweep of the 905 region in 2011, aided by the division of the anti-Harper vote between Dippers and Grits led them to a big win in Ontario and by extension a majority government; the provincial Liberals’ success in the 905 since 2003 provided the main base of their governments while Mike Harris’ own success in the 905 in 1995 and 1999 were key to the Tory victories in those two elections. While the 905 is a huge, sprawling and increasingly diverse and heterogeneous area, voters there can be said to broadly favour stability – they endorse parties and politicians who embody (either real or perceived) stability, good economic management and some degree of moderation. Harper, for those voters, more or less ticked off those three issues. The provincial Liberals ticked off those three issues for a lot of suburban 905 voters. As the results of the CBC’s Vote Compass questions show, suburban voters in the 905 are not necessarily opposed to right-wing economics or some of the Hudak PCs’ core tenets, but they still support strong public services and they distrusted Hudak. At the end of the day, they preferred to stick with the devil they know. Hudak failed to convey a feeling of relative security, stability, moderation and he was not perceived as somebody who would be a competent economic manager.

Of course, Hudak’s image problems date from the 2011 election. Since then, he failed to improve his image and he give little indication that he even had interest in improving his image. He carried well to the Conservatives’ solid core electorate, who are very angry with the Liberals, but alienated swing voters. In the 2014 campaign, Hudak’s image failed to improve.

Liberal, NDP and... Communist signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

Liberal, NDP and… Communist signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

The Ontario NDP did quite well – 23.8% and 21 seats mark the NDP’s best result in a post-1990 era. However, the results were still a mix of good and bad news for the NDP and highlighted the issues faced by the provincial NDP as a result of the ‘populist’ path on which Horwath has taken them. The NDP did very well in southwestern Ontario and the province’s old manufacturing, blue-collar cities – places such as Windsor, Hamilton but also Oshawa and London are now thoroughly dominated by the NDP. However, the NDP lost three seats to the Liberals in downtown Toronto and the NDP suffered significant loses, mostly to the benefit of the Liberals, in all of central and ‘core’ Toronto and in demographically similar ridings in central Ottawa, Guelph and even Hamilton. Horwath’s noted ‘populist shift’ and her focus on bread-and-butter issues alienated a lot of the NDP’s urban, well-educated professional bobo clientele. They were concerned about the NDP’s platform talking of stuff like tax cuts for employers and by the little attention paid to issues dear to them such as poverty, urban housing or the environment. The Liberals’ shift to the left – a more progressive and left-wing budget and platform, the Grits’ attacks on the NDP from the left and perhaps even the personality of Wynne (a Toronto progressive – and her sexuality might have helped Liberals with LGBT voters) – helped them pick up dissatisfied NDP voters. In 2011, the Liberals had also made significant inroads in the Dippers’ central Toronto seats – a result of heavy anti-Hudak strategic voting for the Liberals in the 416 – but the Dippers had still held their own.

It is certainly not impossible to bridge the NDP’s unionized working-class support with its bobo urban support. Jack Layton, despite very much fitting the profile of the ‘urban environmentalist bobo left’ and with a very moderate, Third Way-ish platform, had no trouble appealing to the NDP’s working-class supporters in poorer regions of Ontario and Canada all the while performing tremendously well in inner cities. Horwath largely failed to do that because she gave the impression of focusing entirely on a certain specific type of voter while doing little to market herself to the NDP’s urban supporters.

Some of the initial comments on the NDP’s result were pretty gloomy and negative. Objectively, the NDP did well but not tremendously well; it appealed to some voters at the expense of losing other types of voters. Some of the negative reactions likely stemmed from expectations people had of Horwath and the NDP. After the NDP’s by-election successes across the board in 2012-2014, and Horwath’s strong personal ratings in the polls, many felt that Horwath would finally take the NDP to the ‘big leagues’ and given the Liberals’ performance in the by-elections in 2012-2014, there certainly was reason to believe that the NDP might be on the cusp of displacing the Liberals. That did not materialize – the NDP gained votes and seats, but not ‘enough’ and their mixed results were a cold shower.

The Greens were up a bit – to 4.8% – but that’s still a fairly mediocre result for them, and far from their 2007 highs. Unsurprisingly, the Greens failed to win any seat. While the Ontario Greens do not seem to have completely followed the federal and BC Greens on running ‘micro-targeting’ electoral campaigns which focus heavily on a single riding to elect a Green legislator there, Green leader Mike Schreiner did run in a more Green-friendly riding than last time: the socially liberal progressive university town of Guelph. Schreiner won third place in Guelph with 19.2%, against 21.1% for the PCs and 41.3% for the Liberals – that’s up from 6.9% in 2011 and similar to the GPO’s 19.6% result there back in 2007. It was the party’s second best result – their top result came, unexpectedly, from Parry Sound-Muskoka, where they won 19.3% – up 10 points from 2011 but also up on 2007.

The Liberals will remain in power until 2018, with a majority government. The reelected government quickly passed its 2014 budget in the new legislature. The province’s economic situation remains rather difficult, with a record-high debt and a large deficit which will still take a few years to eliminate (assuming the Liberals do meet their 2017-8 target), but the government is very optimistic that the recovery is only going to get stronger and that Ontario’s most severe economic woes are behind it – it projects that the debt should start dropping after 2015, as the province edges closer to budgetary balance. The four-year term gives the government time to breathe and implement more unpopular decisions if need be, and hope to benefit from a stronger economy in 2018. But can the Liberals really win a fifth term at this point? By 2018, the Liberals will have been in power for 15 years – 11 years is already a pretty surprisingly remarkable longevity for the Liberals.

Tim Hudak announced his intention to step down after a successor is chosen, but he was later forced to anticipate his decision and quit immediately as the PC caucus told him that it was time to go. The PCs have an interim leader until they can choose a permanent leader in 2015. The only declared candidate thus far is Christine Elliott, the PC MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died earlier this year shortly after retiring from politics. Flaherty had previously been a senior cabinet minister provincially under Harris and Eves, and was the main Harrisite right-wing candidate in the 2002 and 2004 PC leadership elections, in which he placed second both times. Elliott ran for the PC leadership herself in 2009, placing third on the second ballot. Elliott, in 2009, had ran on a platform proposing a 8% flat tax, a minimum wage freeze for 4 years and tough-on-crime policies but she was more liberal on social/moral issues. Since 2009, she has served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and, after the PCs were murdered in the GTA this election, she’s one of the few (only?) remaining senior Tories from that seat-rich swing region.

There’s been a bit of speculation that some federal Tory cabinet ministers from Ontario might return to provincial politics – John Baird (the foreign minister) and Tony Clement (the President of the Treasury Board), who were both PC MPPs and cabinet ministers under Harris-Eves, have been cited. Other names include Lisa MacLeod, a senior PC MPP for Nepean-Carleton; and Lisa Raitt, a federal Tory MP and transport minister.

The PCs will need to find a new direction or a new, more appealing way of selling themselves. The shift to the centre and the old Red Tory history failed with John Tory, a return to the 1995 Common Sense Revolution basics on the right failed with Tim Hudak – although neither leaders were predestined to fail because of their ideologies, and rather failed because of their own weaknesses as leaders. However, the 2011 and 2014 campaigns and results should make it clear that few voters fancy a return to Mike Harris-style politics and policies, and that the Tories can’t win through right-wing populism and ‘tough talk’/’brutal honesty’ about austerity. The Tories can remain on the right and win, however – it just requires much better framing and marketing than the disastrous PR it got with Hudak. However, if the Tories don’t change, it’s worth noting that the NDP have only seven seats less than the Tories…

Andrea Horwath will remain NDP leader. That seems fair and reasonable based on the NDP’s results – I found the overly negative tone of the post-election analysis of the NDP and the questions about Horwath’s future to be a bit silly. However, she will need to do a much better job at marketing the NDP to its entire traditional base – it isn’t impossible, but two successive election campaigns have shown that Horwath has failed to appeal to a large and important segment of the NDP’s traditional electorate.

Geographic analysis

I said it above – the Liberals won the election and their majority in Toronto and its suburbs, a region known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Golden Horseshoe (which covers the whole extended urban megalopolis from Niagara to Oshawa) or the 905 (the area code for GTA/Golden Horseshoe regions outside the city of Toronto, which is known as the 416).

In Toronto, it was a near total Liberal sweep. The Liberals won about 49% of the vote and 21 out of 23 seats, against about 22% for the NDP and 2 seats. The PCs, interestingly, placed second and improved on their (admittedly terrible) 2011 result, winning about 23%, but they were shut out. The city of Toronto has been the Ontario Liberal stronghold since 1993 (federally) and 2003 (provincially), and the PCs have not won a seat in a general election in the city since 1999 – the PC gain in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in last year’s by-election marked the first PC victory in the 416 in over 10 years. The Liberals were expected to do very well in Toronto, and the NDP expected to do poorly; likewise, Toronto was not a must-win for Hudak: he could have formed government without any seats in Toronto, just like Harper’s Tories carried a plurality of seats in Ontario in the 2008 federal election despite not returning a single MP from the 416. The Liberals remain a near-perfect fit for most of the city of Toronto, especially now with a Torontonian at the helm: demographically, the city’s highly diverse mix of low-income visible minorities, old white ethnic European communities (Italians) and well-educated affluent professionals (the ‘too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP’ demographic) are all solidly Liberal groups. However, as the 2011 federal election showed, the Liberals are certainly not invincible. That year, the Liberals fell from 21 MPs to only 6, with the Tories breaking through (9 seats) and the NDP making gains (8 seats).

Poll-by-poll results in downtown Toronto (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

Andrea Horwath’s campaign style was a very poor fit for Toronto, which is where the NDP suffered its most significant loses (losing 3 seats and about 4% of the vote). As explained above, the traditional NDP base in the city tends to be young, well-educated professionals (generally not particularly high income) with cosmopolitan, green and progressive worldviews, living in gentrified downtown areas (such as the present-day riding of Trinity-Spadina, which once upon a time in the 1940s elected Communist MPPs!); these voters were turned off by Horwath’s campaign, which targeted working-class Rust Belt voters with a populist campaign focused on what critics would call ‘gimmicks’ (tax cuts, HST off hydro etc). On the other hand, the Wynne Liberals have moved to the left since the McGuinty days, and their cosmopolitan, progressive urban centre-left image was very appealing to a lot of voters who had backed the NDP in previous elections. As a result of Liberal gains, directly from the NDP and because of higher turnout, the Liberals gained the ridings of Beaches-East York, Trinity-Spadina and Davenport. The riding of Trinity-Spadina attracted most attention, because a federal by-election was held in that same seat a few weeks later, on June 30. In the federal contest, Liberal star candidate Adam Vaughan, a left-wing Toronto city councillor, easily gained the seat from the NDP, which had held the riding since 2006 with Olivia Chow (the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton, who resigned to run for mayor of Toronto in October 2014).

The NDP vote fell from 46.8% to 39% in Beaches-East York, 42.4% to 30.5% in Trinity-Spadina, 45.9% to 39.8% in Davenport; in all these seats, the Liberals made significant gains, allowing them to win a 15.8% majority (!) in Trinity-Spadina. The NDP only retained Toronto-Danforth (44.5% vs 37% for the Liberals) and saved Parkdale-High Park by a hair (40.7% to 39.6%). The NDP also suffered loses to the Liberals in ridings where they were not the incumbents: for instance, in the fourth straight rematch between Liberal MPP Laura Albanese and former NDP MPP Paul Ferreira in York South-Weston, a seat which the NDP won in a February 2007 by-election (but then lost to the Liberals in October), the Liberal majority grew from 2.4% to 10.9%. In Toronto Centre, the NDP fell back into third place, losing about 10% from the 2011 election.

In 2011, the Liberals came dangerously close to the NDP in Trinity-Spadina. The general wisdom for that riding holds that the huge condo boom on the waterfront (bred from the redevelopment of old industrial lands on the harbourfront) will benefit the Liberals, as the NDP does poorly with affluent, high-end condo dwellers (although that didn’t stop Olivia Chow from doing very well in May 2011). The Liberals made major inroads all across the diverse riding: in they did well in low-income Chinatown, because of their Chinese-born candidate Han Dong; they swept most neighborhoods (including student and academic neighborhoods around UofT and the gentrified bobo Kensington Market), except for parts of the northwestern end and Palmertson-Little Italy which remained with the NDP (as did, of course, the uber-leftist Toronto Island with its small population of highly activist and engaged left-wing voters) and the Liberals thoroughly dominated their original bases: the waterfront condo boomtown (Entertainment District, Fashion District, Harbourfront) and the affluent Annex – although, interestingly, the PCs seem to have improved marginally at the Liberals’ expense in the most affluent polls. In Beaches-East York, the Grits won by about 1%, with the map showing a north-south divide between Grit dominance in The Beaches – an increasingly affluent area, while the NDP MPP Michael Prue carried East York, which is poorer and historically working-class (but has definitely seen gentrification, which helps the NDP); the NDP was killed by its loses in the more socioeconomically mixed areas of the Beaches, which they had won in 2011.

Davenport, which includes the bulk of Toronto’s Portuguese areas but also increasingly gentrified bobo areas catering to young, well-educated but not very affluent professionals, the NDP lost by 5.7% after gaining the seat from the Liberals in 2011 with a 4.5% majority. The NDP carried Dufferin Grove and Dovercourt Park – i.e. the gentrified bobo spillover from Trinity-Spadina’s last standing Dipper base, while the Liberals generally carried the Portuguese areas. Long-term gentrification in Davenport and Parkdale-High Park’s old working-class areas should theoretically help the NDP, but the Dippers were unable to withstand the anti-Horwath swings. However, the NDP did narrowly save Parkdale-High Park, thanks to decent enough resistance in Parkdale and The Junction, traditionally working-class neighborhoods which have seen gentrification or at least an influx of bobos (but the area is still low-income); the Liberals largely swept the more affluent (and suburban) High Park area and the Polish/Eastern European neighborhoods.

As mentioned, the NDP fell back in low-income and multiethnic York South-Weston, where former MPP Paul Ferreira was in his fourth successive battle against Liberal MPP Laura Albanese. He only carried a few clusters of polls in the western half of the riding, generally areas with a Portuguese population or a low-income black or Hispanic population; the Liberals dominated, as usual, in the Italian half of the riding.

The Liberals won some of their strongest results in the central part of the old city of Toronto and parts of the old city of North York. The Liberals’ best province-wide result came from St. Paul’s – an upper middle-class central riding with the highest levels of education in the province – where the Liberals won 59.7% against 24% for the PCs (the PCs gained from the Liberals in the very affluent and secular Jewish Forest Hills, a Tory bastion); they also did very well in Toronto Centre (58.2%, refer to my posts on last year’s federal by-election there for an explanation of this very diverse and socioeconomically polarized downtown riding, where the Liberals once again bridged the two extremes – although, again, I pick out Liberal loses to the PCs in very affluent Rosedale) and Wynne’s own riding of Don Valley West (57%, another socioeconomically polarized riding including some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of the city, where the Liberal vote is actually down from 2011 due to loses in the very affluent Bridle Path, Lawrence Parks and York Mills areas – but the PCs failed to match their federal cousins’ results in the [non-1%er] upper middle-class areas).

The Liberals held on with a big margin in Eglinton-Lawrence (21%), held by the federal Tories by a handsome margin since 2011 thanks to the very pronounced right-wards swing of Jewish voters in the Bathurst corridor (a swing which has thrown suburban Thornhill to the Tories since 2007 and placed York Centre in contention). The PCs did dominate the Jewish corridor, as in 2011, but again they failed to make inroads in the upper middle-class (non-Jewish) eastern half while the predominantly Italian western half remained rock-ribbed Liberal country.

The Liberals swept Etobicoke (‘Ford Nation’) – the most interesting contest was middle-class Etobicoke-Lakeshore, which featured a rematch of last year’s by-election between PC MPP Doug Holyday and right-wing Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn (both allies of everybody’s favourite mayor Rob Ford) – this time, the contest went firmly in the Grits’ favour, with the Liberals defeating the Tories 47.1% to 34.3%. In Etobs, the Tories largely shrunk back to their core bases – the affluent neighborhoods, such as the Kingsway in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Humber Valley Village in Etobicoke Centre.

Poll-by-poll results in Scarborough (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

Interestingly, the Liberal majorities in low-income, multicultural Etobicoke North and York West (which are both about 70% non-white and low-income) shrunk somewhat: the Grits came down from 48.5% to 44.8% in Etobicoke North and from 50.5% to 46.6% in York West, while the NDP from 21.8% to 26.3% in the former riding and 34.8% to 39.3% in the latter. In York Centre, the NDP remained in third, but improved from 14.1% to 16.5%, with gains in Downsview – a lower middle-class and ethnically diverse (Hispanic, Caribbean, Italian etc) neighborhood, usually solidly Liberal; the Liberals retained the seat with an expanded majority over the Tories, who remained confined to the Jewish enclaves.

The Liberals held all seats in immigrant-heavy Scarborough; however, with both the NDP and PCs making real inroads with some previously quasi-unanimously Liberal visible minority voters in two ridings, the Liberals’ dominance is nowhere near as secure or impressive (although it would still require a May 2011-like perfect storm to actually topple the Liberals). In Scarborough-Rouge River – at 90% non-white, it has the largest population of visible minorities in Canada – the Liberal vote fell to 38.9% (from 41.9% in 2011 and 65.1% in 2007), but still withstood strong challenges from the NDP (31%) – which has made impressive gains with suburban Tamil voters, federally and provincially, since 2011 thanks to strong locally-based Tamil candidates (provincial NDP candidate Neethan Shan, the president of the ONDP and federal NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan); and the PCs (27.7%), who had a star candidate in Raymond Cho, a well-known local city councillor (who ran federally in 1998 and 2004), and made gains in Chinese neighborhoods. In next-door Scarborough-Agincourt, which is 47% Chinese, the PCs also did well – 34.8% (32.1% in 2011), against 49.7% for the Liberals (who also increased their vote, from 47% in 2011). The federal Liberals held Scarborough-Agincourt in the June 30 federal by-elections with a huge majority (30.1%) despite Conservative efforts, although the comically low turnout (29.6%) makes it silly to extrapolate much. The Grits, however, won over 50% of the vote in the four other Scarborough ridings, where both the Tories and NDP suffered loses.

The region of Durham in the eastern GTA produced two of the election’s most surprising results: an unexpected Liberal gain in Durham, said to be a Tory citadel (it had been held by the PCs since its creation in 1999 and last elected a Liberal in 1937 – with Mitch Hepburn’s last majority); and a comfortable NDP gain from the PCs in the industrial auto city of Oshawa, which hadn’t voted for the federal or provincial NDP in decades. Tory backbencher John O’Toole, who held Durham since 1995, did not seek reelection this year, leaving an open seat – but considering the riding’s history and past results at the provincial and federal level (a 19.7% majority in 2011 and a 24.4% majority for the federal Tories in a 2012 by-election, won by O’Toole’s son), few expected that the Tories would be at risk here. The Liberals, however, took everyone by surprise by taking the seat with a 2.3% (1,236 votes) majority, 36.4% to 34.1%. The NDP, with 24%, also did very well (up from 17.6% in 2011). Geographically, the Grits and Dippers made huge inroads in traditionally Tory-voting exurban towns (Courtice, Bowmanville, Port Perry, Uxbridge), with the PCs only holding their own in the rural polls.

The other surprise came from Oshawa, a predominantly industrial (automobile industry) working-class riding which was usually strong territory for the NDP but where the provincial or federal NDP haven’t won a local contest since 1990 (the PCs gained the riding from the ONDP in 1995, leading many to talk of ‘Harris Dippers’ – old working-class NDP voters who switched to the PCs in 1995), although they’ve consistently posted strong second place showings in the last three provincial and last four federal elections. However, a lot of the riding’s right-wards shift also owes to middle-class suburban growth in the north of the riding, which has usually leaned towards the Tories, and concurrent economic transformations (the new dynamics of industrial employment in the Western world, the diminished role of GM in Oshawa’s economy). The NDP has retained a substantial base of support, however, concentrated in Oshawa’s working-class neighborhoods in the older southern and central parts of the city. In 2011, the PCs won 42.3% against 36.2% for the NDP (the Liberals, a non-factor both federally and provincially, won only 17.5%). This year, the NDP won Oshawa with a very unexpectedly large majority of 16.2% (46.7% to 30.5%) on the Tories; they swept nearly all parts of the riding, including middle-class suburban polls where the NDP was weak in the past. The NDP’s surprise victory has been assigned, by some, to strong union mobilization against Hudak’s agenda in this old bastion of organized labour; turnout increased from 44.3% to 51%, in line with most of the 905.

The Liberals had no trouble holding Ajax-Pickering, a well-off middle-class suburban seat with a large visible minority population (45.5%), growing their majority from 11.8% to 21.7% (thanks to a dip in the PC vote from 35.5% to 29.2%). The PCs were only left with the affluent riding of Whitby-Oshawa, where potential future PC leader Christine Elliott was reelected with a reduced 9.4% majority.

Poll-by-poll results in York Region (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In York region (northern 905 suburbs), the Liberals gained one seat from the PCs to hold 5 seats against only one for the Tories. The Liberals had no trouble whatsoever in Vaughan (a heavily Italian suburban riding and a Grit citadel) and Markham-Unionville (44% Chinese and 81% visible minority, another Liberal fortress), and they held tight in Richmond Hill and Oak Ridges-Markham – very affluent, white-collar ridings with large visible minority populations (Markham is only 27.5% white and Richmond Hill is 47% white) in the GTA’s booming northern suburbs. They won by 28 points in Vaughan (taking 56% of the vote), 17 points in Markham-Unionville, 13 points in Richmond Hill and by 8 in Oak Ridges-Markham. However, the PCs did quite well in some affluent Chinese subdivisions in Markham and Richmond Hill, cutting down the Liberal majority in Markham-Unionville by 4% (by building their vote from 31.5% to 34%. Some have speculated that this may portend a slow shift of Chinese-Canadian voters in Ontario towards the Tories, like in BC; probable causes may include affluence or an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.

There was a major swing against the Tories in Newmarket-Aurora, because of the retirement of senior PC MPP Frank Klees, the runner-up in the final ballot in the 2009 PC leadership election who had a rocky relationship with Hudak. The PC vote fell by 10% to 37%, while the Grit vote increased from 35.6% to 43.8% in this affluent, predominantly white outer suburban riding of Toronto.

The PCs saved the affluent and plurality Jewish riding of Thornhill by a whisker in a rematch of the by-election in February 2014 (in which the PCs had narrowly retained the seat, which they gained in 2007 due to the swing of Jewish-Canadian voters towards Tories at both levels of government). The Liberals won the election day vote, but lost to the PCs in advance voting (the PCs did better and the NDP worse in the advance voting); on election night, the riding was erroneously placed in the Liberal column, but the results were switched a day later (apparently due to a tabulation error) to show an 85-vote victory for the PCs (0.17%, down from a 6.3% majority in February and 5.8% in 2011). The election was, again, the usual battle between the strongly Tory Jewish areas and Liberal-voting Italians and visible minorities.

The Liberals remained dominant in the Peel region (Mississauga and Brampton), although the NDP had some strong results in Brampton. The rapidly-growing region has a very large immigrant population – 46% and 33% of Mississauga and Brampton’s respective populations are white – and has been a Liberal stronghold for the past decade (provincially) or so, but the Tories made major gains federally in Peel in 2011 (due, in good part, to inroads with upwardly-mobile ‘aspirational’ visible minority voters, who had previously been loyal Liberals) while the NDP has also shown capacity for growth in a region where it was usually very weak, thanks to visible minority candidates. This year, however, the PCs fell back in Peel region, allowing the Liberals to remain hegemonic – although the NDP had some good showings.

In Mississauga, the Liberals held their five seats without any issues, improving on their 2011 results at the Tories and NDP’s expenses. The Grits won over 50% of the vote in Mississauga South, Mississauga East-Cooksville and Mississauga-Streetsville.

In 2011, the NDP gained the hitherto reliably Liberal seat of Bramalea-Gore-Malton, which has the largest South Asian (45.3%) and Sikh populations (22.2%) in the province (overall, visible minorities now make up 72.7% of the population). The NDP scored major gains with Sikh voters thanks to their local candidate, Jagmeet Singh, who had come within 539 votes of winning the federal riding in May 2011 and then defeated Liberal MPP Kuldip Kular by a 5.2% margin in October 2011 (in 2007, the Liberals had won 47% against 29.4% for the PCs and only 12.3% for the NDP’s white candidate). This year, in a rematch against Kular, Singh increased his vote share from 38.2% to 44.2%.

Poll-by-poll results in Brampton (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In Brampton-Springdale, where South Asians make up about 38% of the population, the NDP made significant gains in the most heavily Punjabi neighborhoods – winning over 40% of the vote in most polls -which indicates that the Dippers may now be expanding their new base with Punjabi voters in Brampton, at the expense of the Liberals. In 2011, the Liberals had won Brampton-Springdale with a narrow 8.3% majority over the PCs (who had made gains in Punjabi areas thanks to a Punjabi candidate, Pam Hundal – although her second candidacy this year didn’t do them any favours) – with the NDP winning just 15.3%; this year, they held the seat with a 8% majority over the NDP – with the Dippers surging to 31.9% and the Liberals falling from 44.4% to 39.9% (the PCs lost 12%, winning 24%). The NDP won the most heavily Punjabi subdivisions, which had been solidly Liberal in 2007 and fought between Liberals and Tories in 2011. The NDP also made small, but less spectacular, gains in Brampton West, which the Grits held with an expanded majority over the Tories.

Outside the urbanized core of the GTA/Golden Horseshoe, the PCs held the riding of Dufferin-Caledon (Caledon is part of Peel region in the GTA, although Dufferin County is not in the GTA) with a significantly reduced majority of 9.2% (compared to 20% in 2011), with the PC vote falling from 47% to 39.9% (and the Liberal vote increasing from 26.8% to 30.7%). The Liberals made strong gains in most of the riding, but especially in suburban Bolton, which has a large Italian population. As in 2011, the riding was also one of the Greens’ best – they won 16.7%, up from 14.6% in 2011 and 16.3% in 2007. The Greens’ support, heavily concentrated in Dufferin County, owes to local environmental issues – local farmers and urban transplants/weekenders united to strongly oppose a proposed limestone quarry in rural Melancthon Township; the large mobilization against the mega-quarry forced its private promoters to toss the idea in late 2012, but it has helped the Greens. This year, the Greens won over 40% in the rural polls where the quarry would have been (in Melancthon Township), and also did very well in Mono, a rural area popular with Toronto weekenders and bobo-types.

The Liberals scored major gains on the Tories in the Halton region in the GTA gaining the ridings of Burlington and Halton (which has the highest median HH income in the province) and holding Oakville by over 10 points. The riding of Halton, which is one of the most overpopulated ridings in the province, has seen very rapid growth around the affluent suburban town of Milton, attractive to young families and visible minorities (the town is 30% non-white); the Liberals performed best in Milton’s new subdivisions as well as new subdivisions north of Oakville and Burlington. The Liberals defeated PC MPP Ted Chudleigh, who has held Halton since 1995, with a decisive 7.6% majority (over 5,700 votes). The Grits scored an historic victory over the Tories in middle-class suburban Burlington, winning a riding which had been held by the PCs since 1943 – although Tory majorities over the Liberals had been quite thin in every election since 2003 (4.3% and a bit over 2,100 votes in 2011). Liberal candidate Eleanor McMahon defeated one-term PC MPP Jane McKenna with a solid 6.3% majority. The Liberals retained Oakville, another affluent suburban riding, with a 11.6% majority (with numbers close to 2011). In all ridings, the PCs found themselves relegated to the wealthiest neighborhoods, while the Liberals topped the poll throughout most middle-class subdivisions (which conforms to the general GTA 2014 pattern of the PCs doing quite well in the wealthiest places while suffering substantial loses to the Liberals in other types of areas). The PCs did retain the more exurban-rural riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, albeit with a significantly reduced majority of 17.6% (compared to a nearly 29-point landslide margin in 2011) thanks to a major tumble in PC support (from 55.6% to 46.7%) and Liberal gains in growing exurban Georgetown.

The NDP held its three seats in the industrial (steel, manufacturing) city of Hamilton, while the Liberals held the mixed suburban-rural seat of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. The provincial NDP has held all three ‘core’ urban ridings in Hamilton since 2011, when they toppled Liberal MPP Sophia Aggelonitis in Hamilton Mountain, an inner suburban riding (within the pre-amalgamation municipal borders of Hamilton) with older working-class suburban neighborhoods and newer middle-class suburbs. Andrea Horwath was reelected with 52.1% and a 28.6% majority in Hamilton Centre, a predominantly low-income working-class/working-poor riding in central Hamilton, although she suffered a substantial swing against her compared to 2011, when she had been reelected with a phenomenal 61.3% of the vote. The Liberals and Greens both increased their vote shares by a nice amount in the riding (17.5% to 23.5% a nd 3.7% to 8.6% respectively), perhaps due to well-educated left-wing bobo voters (Hamilton Centre is the poorest riding in the city, but also has a higher proportion of university grads than the other two NDP-held ridings) swinging against the NDP. Of course, one might say that it’s also a matter of winning with 52% rather than 61% (by all standards, the NDP polled ridiculously and unusually well there in 2011). The NDP’s majority in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek (a mix of urban poverty with post-war middle-class suburban Stoney Creek, which has a large Eastern European and Italian population) was also reduced, from 25.4% to 17.7%. However, in Hamilton Mountain, where the NDP were now the incumbents, their majority increased from 12.8% in 2011 (against the Liberal incumbent) to 17.3% (against a new Liberal candidate). The Liberals handily retained Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, a mix of Hamilton’s affluent suburbs, academia (McMaster University) and incorporated rural areas, with a 10.7% majority over the PCs (up from 9% in 2011). This is another suburban riding held federally by the Tories (since 2006, with a large majority in 2011) and was a must-win for a PC majority government, but the PCs were once again crushed by the Liberals in the middle-class suburbs.

Poll-by-poll results in Halton Region and Hamilton (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

There was no change from the pre-election situation in the Niagara region, with all three parties reelecting their incumbents. In Niagara Falls, won by the Liberals in 2011 but gained by the NDP with a 2.6% majority over the PCs in a February 2014 by-election, the new NDP MPP Wayne Gates was reelected with a much wider majority than in February, taking 47.4% against 32.8% for the PCs by coalescing the anti-Hudak vote around him (as a result, the Liberals won only 14.4% in the riding, their second-worst result in the province. The NDP nearly swept the riding’s three main urban centres, even doing well in trendy Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the Liberals had retained some support in the by-election. The NDP also solidified their hold on Welland, which includes a number of old working-class industrial communities along the Welland Canal (Welland, Thorold, Port Colborne), going from a 12.6% majority in 2011 (the NDP’s majority had been reduced to the retirement of long-time popular MPP Peter Kormos) to a 18.3% victory. The provincial NDP has held Welland since 1977.

On the other hand, Liberal MPP Jim Bradley – the longest-serving member of the legislature, having served since 1977, was reelected to an eleventh term in office in his riding of St. Catharines, in a much easier contest than in 2011, when Bradley had won by only 4% (and 1,700 votes) against the PCs in his closest contest since 1995. While the Liberal vote held steady, at 40.9%, the PC vote collapsed from 36.2% to 29.7% and the NDP increased its backing from 20.2% to 24.5%. St. Catharines is an old auto manufacturing city which remains rather poor, but it lacks Oshawa’s tradition of organized labour activism and strong NDP support. Nevertheless, the NDP won old working-class neighborhoods in the south of the city and placed ahead of the Tories in most of downtown and southern St. Catharines, including most low-income areas.

PC leader Tim Hudak was reelected in the conservative riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, a largely rural and outer suburban riding straddling the city of Hamilton and Niagara region. However, his vote fell by about 9 points from 51% to 42%, with both the Liberals and NDP making gains, especially thanks to inroads in suburban neighborhoods adjacent to Hamilton and new subdivisions.

The Tories also suffered loses in the Waterloo region. The Liberals gained Cambridge from the PCs, which had never voted for the Liberals since its creation in 1975; freshman PC MPP Rob Leone was defeated by a 6.3% margin (he won by a bit less than 5 points in 2011). The riding includes the old industrial towns of Preston, Galt and Hesperer, now amalgamated in the city of Cambridge, which has become more affluent and suburban although manufacturing retains a large presence due to a Toyota plant. The Liberals held Kitchener Centre by a much more comfortable margin than in 2011, winning by 16.1% compared to just 0.8% in 2011. The PC vote collapsed from 38.4% to 27%; the Grits and Dippers both increased their support, to 43.1% and 22.8% respectively. The urban riding is centered around Kitchener (formerly Berlin, a sign of the very strong German heritage in the Waterloo region), an old manufacturing-oriented industrial centre which has diversified and revitalized itself – although the riding itself includes the city’s more low-income neighborhoods, with some middle-class residential suburbs.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, NDP MPP Catherine Fife, who gained the seat from the PCs in a memorable and high-stakes by-election in 2012, was reelected with a 7.2% majority over the Liberals (37.4% to 30.2%), while the PCs – who had held the riding between 1990 and 2012 (with Elizabeth Witmer, a popular moderate Tory MPP) – fell into third with 26.3%. The riding, which includes two universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University), financial companies and a high-tech sector (RIM), is the most highly educated and white-collar constituency in the Waterloo region (it is also more affluent than its neighbour to the south, although it still includes poorer areas). The NDP’s victory in 2012 was a major win for Horwath’s party at the time, and a major defeat for the Liberals, who had traditionally been the PCs’ main competitors for the riding provincially and federally (a victory in the by-election, at the time, would also have secured McGuinty’s government its elusive majority) and the PCs (although the riding is by no means a Tory stronghold, it has been held by the federal Tories since 2008). This year, Fife was reelected with a slightly narrower margin than in 2012, suffering some loses to the Liberals while gaining suburban votes from the PCs.

Poll-by-poll results in Kitchener and Waterloo (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

The PCs saved Kitchener-Conestoga by a tight margin, 36.5% to 33.3% for the Liberals (and a solid 21.1% for the NDP), whereas in 2011 the Tories had gained the seat from the Liberals with a solid 8.7% majority (but the Liberals won a higher share of the vote in 2011, suggesting the PCs mostly lost to the NDP). The quasi-doughnut rurban riding takes in rural areas (where the Liberals have really fallen off since 2007) and suburban neighborhoods, both working-class and affluent, of Kitchener proper; this year, the PCs won solid margins in the rural and village polls, while the Liberals and NDP won most suburban polls in Kitchener.

Outside the Waterloo region, the Liberals easily held the very left-liberal ‘college town’ riding of Guelph with a slightly expanded 20-point majority on the Tories (41.3% to 21.1%), but the most noteworthy result in the riding was that of Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who placed a strong third with 19.2% (although he still fell far short of winning the seat, as his party had hoped). Guelph has tended to be one of the Greens’ strongest riding, thanks to its well-educated bobo-ish population of students and academics; the party won 21.2% in the 2008 federal election and 19.6% in the 2007 provincial election, although Green support dropped to 6-7% in the 2011 federal and provincial elections. This year, Schreiner won a number of polls in downtown Guelph’s Old Town, a young, student and cosmopolitan area; the Greens also placed second, ahead of the PCs and NDP, in other neighborhoods close to the university or downtown.

Southwestern Ontario was a very interesting contrast to the results in the GTA – put together, the results from these two electoral battleground regions make this election highly interesting and give the new Liberal majority government a rather unusual form when compared to past Liberal majorities, including Dalton McGuinty’s back-to-back majorities in 2003 and 2007. Southwestern Ontario, while highly diverse in its own right, is a largely ‘Rust Belt’-type blue-collar region with a number of industrial centres (Windsor, Brantford, London, Sarnia, Ingersoll, Woodstock – in addition to Kitchener and Cambridge, which are also formally in SW Ontario), some of which – notably the famous auto manufacturing city of Windsor – have struggled in recent years, with high unemployment and general economic decline. Politically, southwestern Ontario has been the Liberal Party’s main rural base, dating back to the nineteenth century when the region’s Methodist English settlers or German Catholic immigrants supported the Liberals in the tradition of George Brown’s radical Clear Grits of the pre-Confederation days; that tradition remained strong and visible until quite recently – in 2003 and 2007, when the Ontario Liberals won majority mandates, they won most rural and small town ridings in SW Ontario. Federally, as recently as 2004, the Liberals won a few rural seats in SW Ontario, including Huron-Bruce, which was only lost to the Tories in 2008. Provincially and federally, however, the Liberals have really suffered in recent years – all rural ridings in the region are now held at both levels by Tories, leaving the Liberals only with a urban base (it is even worse, after 2011, federally). Liberal loses in traditionally Liberal rural areas across Canada have come, in part, as a result of ideological shifts which have seen the Liberals defined more as a urban (in Ontario, Torontonian) party catering to a urban base which is demographically quite different from the old Liberal base in rural regions. Provincially, the poor economy may have hurt the provincial Liberals too. In the by-elections following the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals lost two seats to the NDP, and polls regularly showed the NDP polling very well and the Liberals very poorly in SW Ontario. In the election, the Liberals did indeed do poorly in SW Ontario – they lost Windsor West to the NDP, one of two seats in the province which the Liberals lost; the Liberal vote also receded even further in rural ridings which they lost in 2011 and in a number of ridings – such as Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Oxford or Elgin-Middlesex-London – the Liberals fell into third, behind the PCs and NDP. The NDP was the only party which truly did well in SW Ontario, scoring significant gains in a number of ridings. The PCs lost no seats, but their vote fell back in nearly every single seat, even where they were the incumbents.

The Liberal Speaker, Dave Levac, was reelected in Brant with a more comfortable 6.3% majority over former PC MPP Phil Gillies (he had held on by only 2.7% in 2011), although it was mostly due to the PC vote falling from 34.7% to 30.8%. The NDP came in a very strong third with 26.9%, up from an already strong result of 24.2% three years ago. The NDP expanded its support in Brantford, an old blue collar industrial town which remains relatively poor, dominating the city’s old working-class and lower-income neighborhoods; the NDP had already made very significant gains in Brantford in 2011. The NDP represented the region federally between 1971 and 1993. The Grits owed their victory to support in Brantford’s newer middle-income suburban neighborhoods, the small industrial centre of Paris and (to a much lesser extent) to the Six Nations Reserve (where turnout is always very low, although votes heavily favour the Liberals and/or NDP).

The Conservatives confirmed their domination of rural SW Ontario – although the PC vote actually fell back a bit in these ridings, most of which were gained from the Liberals in 2011. Nevertheless, the Liberals lost even more, ensuring some more comfortable PC majorities. In Perth-Wellington, which the PCs had gained from the Liberals with a tiny 0.6% or 210 vote lead, the PC majority grew to 6.1% as the Grit vote fell from about 39% to 32.9%. The Liberals have lost rural areas to the PCs, but they retain strong support in Stratford, an old industrial centre which now has a somewhat famous arts/cultural scene. In Huron-Bruce, another traditionally Liberal riding lost to the PCs (by a decisive 10-point margin), the Liberal vote declined further from 32.8% to 30.9%, benefiting the NDP and the Greens because the Tory vote also fell.

The NDP won some quite impressive numbers in small town ridings in SW Ontario, numbers oftentimes even better than those won by the federal NDP in May 2011. In Sarnia-Lambton, in PC hands since 2007, the NDP won 35.7% of the vote, coming within 5.4% of the PCs in the riding and trouncing the Tories in most of Sarnia itself, a predominantly industrial (petrochemicals) town on the shores of Lake Huron. In Oxford, a solidly Tory seat with a large blue-collar manufacturing presence, the NDP boosted its support by over 10 points to win 25.8% (although that was still far behind the PCs’ 46.2%), making impressive gains in the auto manufacturing town of Ingersoll and also in Woodstock. In Chatham-Kent-Essex, a Liberal seat until 2011, the Liberals fell to third place (24.1%) while the NDP won an impressive 31.1%, against 37.8% for the PCs. The NDP had strong support in the small industrial town of Tilbury, the regional centre of Chatham and the agro-industrial town of Leamington. The NDP also placed second, ahead of the Liberals, in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex and Elgin-Middlesex-London, two seats which were in Liberal hands until 2011.

Poll-by-poll results in London, ON (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In London, the NDP won two of the city’s three seats while the Liberals retained one. The NDP had little problem retaining London West, a seat which they gained from the Liberals in last summer’s by-election. At the time, the riding, which is the city’s most affluent riding – it is a predominantly middle-class suburban riding, although it include more urban neighborhoods such as trendy and hip South London and some low-income areas – should have been low-hanging fruit for the PCs, whose federal counterparts have held the seat since 2008 and the NDP’s victory by 9.2% over the PCs (while the Liberals collapsed by nearly 30% to 16%) was a big surprise. Freshman NDP MPP Peggy Sattler was reelected with a 10.8% majority over the PCs, although the NDP’s vote share is down slightly from the by-election because the Liberals improved slightly to 23.7% (although that’s still a very mediocre third compared to 45.7% in 2011). The NDP was also reelected easily in London Fanshawe, with a 27.5% majority over the PCs (the Liberal vote fell from 28.3% to 19.9%); the riding – the most blue-collar in the city – includes working-class low-income and low-education neighborhoods on the city’s east ends and some newer lower middle-class suburbs. The NDP had gained the seat from the Liberals in 2011, with a 12.5% majority over the Liberal incumbent. The Liberals were victorious in London North Centre, the city’s ‘college town’ riding (it includes Western U), although the NDP also made major gains – from 22.7% and third to 30.4% and second, coming within 5.7% of the Liberal incumbent, whose vote fell from 43.9% in 2011 to 36.1%. The riding map showed a split between the southeastern half of the riding, an old working-class and low-income area which the NDP thoroughly dominated; and the downtown and northwestern half of the riding, a mix of urban and more leafy suburban highly-educated and more middle-class areas (including Western and surrounding academia-influenced neighborhoods), where the Liberals won most polls with a handful of PC polls in the more affluent parts. The Tories were the other major losers in the city (remember that, federally, they hold two of the city’s three seats, except London Fanshawe which is Dipper), given that their share of the vote declined compared to the last election/by-election in all three ridings.

The NDP swept the Windsor region. In 2011, they had failed to defeat the Liberals in the two Windsor urban seats, losing by about ten in both of them. They had, however, managed to score a gain in the more rural riding of Essex, which had been expected to be a PC gain from the Liberals rather than a NDP gain at the time. The NDP’s Taras Natyshak won the seat with a 3 point edge on the Tories. This year, Natyshak was reelected with an incredible 60.3% of the vote (compared to 38% in 2011) and a massive 38% majority over the PCs, while the Liberals won their worst provincial result (14.2%) in a riding which used to be strongly Liberal in the past.

In last summer’s by-election, the NDP also gained Windsor-Tecumseh with a massive margin – 61.1% against 20% for the PCs, their closest rivals. It had little trouble holding that seat this year either – NDP MPP Percy Hatfield was reelected with a 46.8% majority over the Liberals, or 62.1% of the vote. The only close contest, therefore, was Windsor West, the only seat still in Liberal hands with Teresa Piruzza, the Minister of Children and Youth Services, who had defeated the NDP by about 10% in 2011. She was the only sitting Liberal MPP to be defeated in the election, losing 38.5% to 41.3% to the NDP. Windsor, the leading auto manufacturing capital of Canada, has suffered a lot from the recession – resulting in a loss of manufacturing jobs and a significant decline in household incomes since 2006.

In central Ontario, the Liberals regained the seat of Northumberland-Quinte West, lost in 2011, from the PCs, with former Liberal MPP Lou Rinaldi winning his rematch against the PC candidate who had defeated him in 2011. The Liberals won with a comfortable 43% and 7% majority in the riding, which borders Lake Ontario and includes the towns of Cobourg, Port Hope and Trenton. The Liberals also regained the urban riding of Barrie, lost in 2011, taking a narrow 4.6% against the PCs. Finally, the Liberals retained Peterborough with a solid 16.4% majority, up from a much thinner 8.4% majority.

The PCs held their other seats. The Liberals came within 5.9% in York-Simcoe, a largely exurban which includes the northern end of the GTA in York region, and increased their vote by 10 points from 24% to 34%. The Liberals also made major gains in Simcoe North, gaining 10 points (from 22% to 32%) as the PCs fell over 10 points from 55% to 43%, allowing the Liberals to regain the upper hand in the Franco-Ontarian Penetanguishene area. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, a large rural and solidly Tory riding had gained attention for the hilarious 2009 by-election which saw the Liberals unexpectedly defeat then-PC leader John Tory, who was seeking to enter the legislature from a PC stronghold after losing his riding in the 2007 election. Obviously, the Liberal incumbent was defeated by a large margin (nearly 12 points) in 2011, but in a rematch of the 2011 contest, he came within 5.8% of regaining his old seat – certainly much too close for comfort for the Tories.

The PCs were also reelected in Parry Sound-Muskoka, although their vote share fell from 54% to 40.7% because of a strong showing from the Liberals (18% to 26%) and especially the Greens, who, with 19.3%, won their best provincial result in the riding – which, in ‘cottage country’, has a large tourism industry which may boost Green support.

There was no change in eastern Ontario, with the Liberals and PCs holding their seats without too much trouble. Rural eastern Ontario is one of the most solidly and ancestrally Tory regions in the province, because of its early settlement by United Empire Loyalists. In the past decade, the very right-wing and anti-government Ontario Landowners Association (OLA), which defends landowners’ property rights, has gained much influence in the region’s rural regions and over the PCs. Former OLA leaders Randy Hillier and Jack MacLaren have been PC MPPs from eastern Ontario since 2007 and 2011 respectively, and Randy Hillier won

The Liberals failed to regain Prince Edward-Hastings, lost to the PCs in 2011, going down by 9 points against the Tories this year in a riding which includes the town of Belleville and the touristy region of Prince Edward County. The PCs held their rural WASP strongholds. Randy Hillier, a controversial MPP on the PCs’ right-wing, was reelected to a third term in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington with a 13.9% majority. The PCs won some of their best provincial results in Leeds-Grenville, which is an old Tory bastion, but also in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, which was in Liberal hands as recently as 2007 (the area is much less WASPy with a very significant French component). The PCs’ best result in the province came from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, where they won no less than 61.1% and savaged the Liberals by a 42 point margin. Ironically, the riding – now one of the safest Tory seats in Ontario at either level of government – was actually a Liberal stronghold (it has a less WASPy-population, with more significant Catholic, notably Polish and Irish, population) in a not-so-distant past: the provincial Liberals held it through the Harris PC elections (1995 and 1999) and only lost it in 2003.

The NDP, usually quite weak in rural eastern ON, had a number of good results – as in 2011. It won 21.6% in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, with a few poll victories in the town of Cornwall; and 20.3% in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.

The Liberals held Kingston and the Islands, centered on the lovely and quaint university town of Kingston. However, a retiring Liberal member and a strong NDP candidate meant that the Liberals’ support fell from 48.8% to 41.6% while the NDP, in second place, increased its vote from 23.8% to 29.6%, winning its strongest numbers in Kingston’s poorest neighborhoods north of the historic core.

The Liberals also held the ancestrally Liberal and heavily Franco-Ontarian riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, which they had narrowly retained in 2011 in the face of the strongest PC challenge in years by only 3.4%. This year, the freshman Liberal incumbent was reelected with an 18% majority and cracked 50%. Held by the Conservatives federally since 2006 (a gain which was historic, given how it had more or less been held by the Liberals since the 19th century), the PCs have been unable to make similar gains in rural Franco-Ontarian communities,

Poll-by-poll results in Ottawa (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

There was no change in Ottawa, but the Liberals performed very strongly. The PCs had two must-win seats in the city, which are held by their federal counterparts since 2006: the suburban ridings of Ottawa West-Nepean and Ottawa-Orléans. In 2011, the Liberals had saved both, but with a very small 2.2% majority in Ottawa West-Nepean and a slightly healthier 6% majority in Ottawa-Orléans (your dear blogger’s riding). In Ottawa West-Nepean, Liberal incumbent Bob Chiarelli – a former Ottawa mayor and a cabinet minister – was reelected in a rematch with his 2011 PC rival with a strong 12.4% majority, as the PC vote fell to about 33% from 39% in 2011. The riding, in Ottawa’s west end, is a socioeconomically mixed suburban area including some lower-income neighborhoods and middle-class suburbs. Despite a strong candidate in Alex Cullen, a former MPP and city councillor, the NDP only won 14.3%. The east end suburban riding of Ottawa-Orléans, where the three-term Liberal incumbent retired (which may have been a positive for them, actually), the Liberals retained the seat by an unexpectedly large margin – 20.5% – with 53.6% of the vote for the Liberals, against only 33.1% for the PCs (46.4% and 40.4% in 2011). The very affluent suburban riding has the largest Francophone population of the Ottawa ridings (30%) and has a large population of public servants. The PCs’ failures (and worse, their loses) in both ridings, which have been held by the federal party since 2006, show their failure to make the required breakthroughs in suburban neighborhoods. In a government city like Ottawa in particular, Hudak’s pledge to cut public sector jobs likely hurt the Tories badly – although the cuts wouldn’t have affected federal public servants, the federal public sector has seen its share of cuts since 2011 by the Harper government.

The Liberals reelected their three other incumbents in Ottawa Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Ottawa South. In Ottawa Centre, which includes the city’s downtown core (and has the demographics associated with such areas – high levels of education – 50% of residents have a university diploma or degree, likely one of the highest in Ontario; young single renters, white-collar professionals and the large presence of sectors such as education, public administration and culture/arts; with the social mix of low-income areas, upper middle-class urban progressive areas such as The Glebe, gentrified areas, social housing etc.), popular Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi won with a 31% majority over the NDP (which holds the federal riding since 2006). As in downtown Toronto, the NDP did quite poorly in Ottawa Centre, its support falling from 29% in 2011 (which had already been a very mediocre result, as the NDP in 2011 had also struggled in downtown ridings) to only 20.4%. Certainly the local Liberal MPP’s popularity, like in 2011, helped the Liberals and hurt the NDP but the Horwath NDP’s poor appeal to urban progressive voters played a big part too (the NDP did particularly poorly in The Glebe and Old Ottawa South, NDP-friendly upper middle-class progressive left-leaning neighborhoods). The NDP also did poorly in Ottawa-Vanier (a very diverse and socioeconomically polarized area, which includes some of the wealthiest and poorest areas in Ottawa), an old Liberal stronghold which does have some NDP-‘compatible’ areas (the central areas of Sandy Hill and Lower Town, and, increasingly, the poor Francophone Vanier area). Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur was handily reelected with 55.7% of the vote and a 33% majority over the PCs, with the NDP winning just 13.2% compared to 19.6% in 2011 and a high-water mark of 29.4% in the 2011 federal election.

Finally, the Liberals easily held Ottawa South by 18 points, McGuinty’s old riding which it had successfully defended against a tough PC challenge in last summer’s by-election (winning by 3.6%, after polls had predicted a PC gain). The riding, which has the highest visible minority populations (Arab, Somali mostly) outside the GTA, is predominantly middle-class suburban with pockets of deprivation.

The Conservatives only managed to win their two ridings in the outer suburban/exurban/rural parts of the city – Carleton-Mississippi Mills and Nepean-Carleton, with reduced majorities of 15.6% and 13.3% respectively – although the Liberals posted some decent results in the high-growth outer suburban neighborhoods of Kanata and Barrhaven.

There was only one close contest in northern Ontario; otherwise, all incumbents retained their seats and in all but one case, they grew their majorities nicely. Geographically humongous but sparsely populated Northern Ontario has a distinctive regional political culture, which clearly sets it apart from southern Ontario. The region’s economy has traditionally been centered on primary industries – namely mining and lumber – and, outside the major cities, most settlements grew as single-resource towns; this economic base, combined with the region’s isolation has bred a distinctive political culture with strong feelings of alienation and frustration towards dominant southern Ontario and provincial governments accused of ignoring northern Ontario’s special economic concerns and socioeconomic problems. Nowadays, in addition to primary industries, the wider public sector/government has become a key employer while larger cities (Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie) have diversified their economies with a large tertiary sector. Demographically, the region has a highly diverse population – a large First Nations population (about 13% of the regional population), a significant Franco-Ontarian minority (17% of the region has French as its mother tongue) and other immigrants group from Europe including, among others, Finns (Thunder Bay has the largest population of Finnish-Canadians per capita). Politically, the region has typically been a stronghold of the Liberals and New Democrats, with limited support for Conservatives – although Mike Harris represented Nipissing, at the southern end of the region, for decades. Since 2011, the NDP holds a majority of seats in the region – 5 against 4 Liberals and one Tory, compared to 7 Liberals in 2003 and 2007. Federally, the NDP has also replaced the Liberals as the region’s dominant party; in fact, the Liberals lost their last northern riding (Nipissing-Timiskaming) in 2011.

The close contest in the region was the urban riding of Sudbury, an open seat with a retiring Liberal incumbent which the Liberals had won by only 1.7% and 531 votes in the last election. The NDP gained the seat from the Liberals 42.2% to 39.3%, a narrow 2.9% majority – representing a slight dip in the Liberal vote and small uptick in the NDP vote, respectively; with Windsor West, it is the only Liberal-held seat (pre-election) which the Liberals lost. Historically dominated by nickel mining, the largest city in northern Ontario has diversified its economy and isn’t too badly off. The NDP dominated in the city’s working-class areas and old mining towns, while the Liberals dominated the affluent areas and generally narrowly beat the NDP in more suburban neighborhoods.

The PCs retained their only seat, Nipissing. Former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli gained the open seat – Mike Harris’ old turf – from the Liberals by a very large (21.5%) margin in 2011; this year, he was reelected with a reduced majority (15%). The benefactor of the PC loses in the riding was the NDP, which increased its support to a very strong 25.7% – the NDP made sizable gains with traditionally Liberal Franco-Ontarian voters. At the border between north and south (with some arable agricultural land), the rural Anglophone areas in Nipissing District still vote heavily Tory, like other rural regions in the south.

The NDP held its five other ridings  and all with increased majorities – oftentimes landslide margins. In Timiskaming-Cochrane, the NDP increased its majority from 24.2% to 31.9%, winning 55% of the vote. In Algoma-Manitoulin, it increased its majority from 16.1% to 28.9%, winning 53.4%. Both of these ridings had been gained from the Liberals in the last election. In remote and gigantic Timmins-James Bay, longtime NDP MPP Gilles Bisson was returned with a 27% majority over the Liberals (51.2% to 24.2%), whereas in 2011 he had won by only 12.8% against the PCs, who had put up a strong challenge with Al Spacek, the mayor of the heavily Francophone lumber town of Kapuskasing (he won 36.7%, in a riding where the PCs have struggled to break 15%). Without him, the PCs fell to a very decent 22.6%, while the Liberals moved up from a catastrophic 12.4% to a slightly-less horrendous 24.2%. In Kenora-Rainy River, one-term NDP MPP Sarah Thompson won a second term with a much larger 30% majority over the PCs, compared to a much closer 12-point win in 2011 – the riding is the seat of former NDP leader Howard Hampton, who did not seek reelection in 2011; creating a much more competitive race, given the strength of the Conservatives in the white Anglo towns of Kenora, Dryden and rural tourist towns. In Nickel Belt, the NDP won by no less than 40.8%, taking 62.7% of the vote. All of these predominantly ‘rural’ and small town ridings are a mix of single-industry mining or lumber communities, Franco-Ontarian towns and First Nations reserves.

The Liberals did very poorly in the NDP-held seats, suffering loses vis-a-vis the 2011 election and falling far below past levels of support (all of these areas elected Liberal MPs or MPPs at one time or another). However, the Liberals did very well in the three ridings where they had incumbents – namely Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North and Sault Ste. Marie. In all three seats, there was a significant swing to the Liberal incumbents and against the NDP. For example, in Thunder Bay-Atikokan, which the Liberals had held against the NDP by only very tight margins in the last two elections (a 1.7% majority in 2011), the Liberal majority surged to 24.7% (it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 53%, while the NDP fell from 37% to 28%). The Liberals held Thunder Bay-Superior North with a 26.6% majority on the NDP and Sault Ste. Marie with a 33% majority on the NDP; in both cases, the Liberals won over 55% of the vote and significantly increased its support at the NDP’s expense.

Conclusion

The Liberals were returned with a majority government, and a fourth straight term in office. The geographic structure of the Liberal majority made this election highly interesting.

The Liberals won the election in the GTA/905 – which was, as always, the main swing region which all parties were required to do well. The Liberals did very well throughout the GTA – both in the 416 (Toronto) and the 905 – unlike the NDP and the PCs, who had mixed results in the region. Compared to the 2011 election, the Liberals made significant gains with left-wing urban progressive voters in downtown Toronto, at the NDP’s expense; it held the visible minority vote, despite some limited and concentrated NDP or PC inroads with some communities; and it retained and even made further gains with the middle-class suburban vote in the GTA. In Ottawa, Ontario’s second largest metro area, the trends were very similar: NDP underperformance in the urban core, PC failure in the swing inner suburbs.

In ‘Rust Belt’-ish SW Ontario, however, the Liberals did uniformly poorly, falling below 2011 levels and even further below 2007 levels. In a number of seats, which were won by the Liberals as recently as 2007, the NDP replaced the Liberals as the main challenger to the PCs. The contrast between the GTA and SW Ontario is very striking in this election.

There was a strong urban-rural divide in this election, which is increasingly common in Canadian politics but was less common historically, when the Liberals had strong support in some rural regions. In this election, the Liberals and NDP dominated in urban centres and most suburban areas – not only the big cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, London, Kitchener and Windsor but also smaller regional centres such as Oshawa, St. Catharines, Barrie, Cambridge, Kingston, Guelph, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Sarnia, Welland and Belleville; in May 2011, the federal Tories had won most of these smaller towns (except for the college towns of Kingston and Guelph, and Welland). It appears as if the largest towns to have gone PC in June 2014 were suburban Whitby and the weird single-tier municipality of Chatham-Kent (see the borders of this ‘municipality’ here) Even in ridings won by the PCs – such as Perth-Wellington, Huron-Bruce and Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington – the Liberals and/or NDP still won most polls in those ridings’ main towns – Stratford, Goderich, Kincardine and Napanee in this case. It is also noteworthy that, for all the talk of the Liberals being an increasingly Torontonian party (led by a Toronto leader on the party’s left), they still did well in more historically industrial towns such as Cambridge, Kitchener, St. Catharines or regional centres such as Barrie. That being said, the NDP won some very strong results in SW Ontario’s old industrial centres: Windsor and London obviously, but also Sarnia, Brantford and Ingersoll for example. The PCs, in contrast, did poorly throughout the board in urban and suburban areas.

What doomed the PCs was their inability – yet again – to breakthrough in the inner suburbs. As noted previously, suburban voters are a very swingy bunch: in May 2011, they swung to the Conservatives and allowed the Tories to win remarkable results in the 905 and even the 416 (although non-Tory vote splitting also helped a bunch), but in October 2011 they largely stuck with the provincial Liberals despite everything. As such, nothing in this election should be interpreted in the long-term: the PCs may very well sweep the board in the suburbs in 2018, or they might be destroyed again – nobody can really pretend to accurately predict that. The PCs were limited to their rural base – although even in rural areas, they fell far short of the federal Conservative results in those ridings and the provincial Liberals were still miles and miles ahead of the federal Liberals (May 2011, granted) there; in addition to an outer suburban/exurban base, although the Liberals did perform quite well in new housing subdivisions in the GTA. Interestingly, there seems to have been a small swing towards the PCs and against the Liberals in the province’s wealthiest urban neighborhoods, likely a reaction to the Liberals’ left-wards shift. Looking forward to 2018, the PCs need to fix their leadership problems above all – get a leader who, while not necessarily a moderate, can reassure voters and appeal to target PC demographics with a reasonable platform which showcases them as ‘good economic managers'; this would allow the PCs to regain suburban voters, like the Harper Tories did in 2011. The next step could be to copy Harper’s successful appeal to visible minority voters in the GTA; one silver lining from this election might be the PCs’ decent (but still not good enough) results with Chinese voters in Scarborough and Markham.

The NDP had largely positive, but also very mixed results; the strong results in SW Ontario contrasted with the poor numbers in downtown Toronto/Ottawa, showing Horwath’s inability to bridge the two components of the NDP electorate, something which Jack Layton had done very well in 2008-2011 for the federal NDP. Although much commentary on the ONDP’s showing has focused on the contrast between SW Ontario and the urban progressive downtowns, little attention was given to the NDP’s strong results with (historically Liberal) visible minorities in Brampton, northern Toronto (Etobicoke and York) and parts of Scarborough. If the Ontario NDP can continue to do very well in SW Ontario, reconquer downtown voters and make inroads with visible minorities in Toronto’s suburbs, they have the potential to build a winning coalition.

My apologies for the huge delay in publishing this report. Hope it was worth it!

EU 2014: Italy

ep2014

The European Parliament elections were held in Italy on May 25, 2014. Alongside them, the first round of municipal elections in nearly half of all communes and regional elections in two regions were held.

Italy is famous in Europe for its convoluted, complicated, arcane, peculiar and often very theatrical politics – in short, a political system which may often confound general explanations of European politics. The past five years, in particular the last two or so of them, have been extremely rich in momentous and consequential events which have fundamentally changed the way Italian politics had operated since 1994. Perhaps less dramatic and rapidly than in Greece, it would certainly appear that Italy is undergoing a major political realignment whose final outcome is still very uncertain and whose evolution has continued to defied all predictions. The ongoing changes in the party system and upcoming changes to the electoral system and constitutional structure of Italy may augur the creation of a ‘Third Republic’ to replace the Second Republic (1994-?). The EP elections added to the increasingly open-ended and unpredictable nature of contemporary Italian politics: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) won an unexpectedly massive victory at the polls.

Electoral system

Italy elected 73 MEPs to the European Parliament, one more than in the 2009 election (under the Nice apportionment rules) – but Italy had received its 73rd seat in 2011, following ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Italian electoral law for the EP was adopted in 1979, for the first EP elections, making it the oldest electoral law in Italy. Under the current version of the law, members are elected by semi-open party-list proportional representation with a 4% threshold (adopted in 2009) in five multi-member constituencies: Northeast Italy (Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy – 20 MEPs), Northwest Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna – 14 MEPs), Central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio/Latium – 14 MEPs), Southern Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria – 17 MEPs), Insular Italy (Sicily and Sardinia – 8 MEPs).

Unlike in France, the threshold is applied nationally rather than regionally, and the parties’ seats are then distributed to the individual constituencies based on the lists’ results therein (Hare-Niemeyer method, highest remainders). Italian voters may cast up to three preferential votes for candidates on a party list, but under a recent amendment, a voters’ preferences will be ignored if they are not distributed between candidates of different genders. Lists must therefore obtain 4% nationally to win seats, but there is an exception for linguistic minority parties (French, German and Slovenian) who may ally themselves with a national party, pooling their votes together and receiving a seat if the minority party wins over 50,000 votes nationally.

In Italy, candidates may run in more than one constituency, something which is extremely rare in other EU member-states. In 2009, for example, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the lead candidate of his party, the People of Freedom (PdL) in every constituency and was elected to the EP from every constituency. That same year, the then-leader of the Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi, was also the Lega’s top candidate in every EP constituency.

Turnout in Italian elections – at all levels – have traditionally been extremely high, especially given that voting is not mandatory. There has, however, been a very obvious downwards trend in turnout in all elections in the past decades, with turnout in national elections falling from over 90% in the 1970s and 88% in 1983-7 to historic lows of 78.1% in 2008 and 72.3% in the last election in 2013. In EP elections, although Italy remains one of the few EU countries without mandatory voting where turnout has remained over 50%, turnout has declined quasi-consistently (with the exception of an increase in 2004) from 86% in 1979 to 66.5% in 2009 and a new low of 57.2% this year.

Like everything in Italian politics, the history of EP elections since 1979 is marked by a pre-1994 and post-1994 difference, between the First Republic (1979, 1984 and 1989 EP elections) and Second Republic (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 EP elections) elections. Under the First Republic, in line with the general tradition of that era of the partitocrazia, the EP elections did not see major differences from the results in national elections or wild swings from one election to the next. Nevertheless, the 1984 EP elections were the first and only national elections in which the Italian Communist Party (PCI) surpassed the natural governing party, the Christian Democracy (DC), due to the recent death of popular PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer (though even in that case, the differences between EP election and 1983 national elections were minor). Since 1994, EP elections have seen – in line with the political culture of the Second Republic – wilder swings and an exploded and unstable party system. The 1994 EP elections, right in the aftermath of Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the 1994 elections, saw Berlusconi’s party win its best national result ever (30.6%). The 1999 EP elections, held during a centre-left government, saw Berlusconi’s party – in opposition – win the most votes (25.2%) and set the stage for his return to power in 2001. However, in 2004, held when Berlusconi’s three-year old government was at its lowest point in popularity, the centre-left coalition (L’Ulivo) swept the board with 31.1% against 20.9% for Berlusconi.

Background

In the 2009 EP elections, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – the histrionic business magnate at the centre of Italian politics since 1994, won yet another convincing electoral victory over the left, one year after Berlusconi was elected to a third term in power (Berlusconi won the 1994, 2001 and 2008 elections and served thrice as Prime Minister, from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011). Berlusconi is a highly controversial but also highly interesting and unique political figure in contemporary Western Europe. A prominent businessman, Berlusconi made his fortune in the 1980s with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset, which controls about 35% of the TV market in Italy).

In 1994, the ‘First Republic’ collapsed, opening a major void on the right of the political spectrum which was up for grabs. The First Republic a fairly stable (the heavy turnover in cabinets obscured constants in the partisan makeup of said cabinets and electoral trends) but also very corrupt fossilized political system structured around the catch-all Christian Democracy (DC) party and its minor allies (Socialists, Liberals, Republicans and Democratic Socialists) and united by the very potent threat posed by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of Western Europe’s strongest and most influential communist parties during the Cold War. Since 1991, the First Republic collapsed first as the Cold War ended and huge corruption scandals and investigations which revealed that the governing parties, led by the DC, were rotten to the core. The DC and Socialists scuttled themselves altogether, the PCI responded to the fall of communism by transforming itself into a modern social democratic party (the PDS), the old neo-fascist/far-right Italian Social Movement (MSI) rebranded itself as the post-fascist and moderated National Alliance (AN) under Gianfranco Fini and new parties emerged forcefully – most notably, the regionalist/separatist populist Lega Nord in northern Italy. The DC’s collapse opened up a big void on the right and centre, one which would not vote for the ex-PCI under any circumstances (thanks to decades of instinctive anti-communism), but which was left homeless by the collapse of the DC and other parties. Berlusconi, a very shrewd and talented political operator, understood the opportunity which existed (and realized the consequences that the likely left-wing victory in the 1994 elections would have on his personal business empire, built up in good part due to his ties to prominent politicians in the old system) and decided to ‘enter the field’ with a new party, Forza Italia, founded just months before the 1994 elections. In regionally-differentiated coalitions with the Lega Nord and the AN (and small centre-right remnants of the DC), Berlusconi won the 1994 elections but his government quickly collapsed due to conflicts with the Lega. In 2001, Berlusconi, who had reconstructed a right-wing coalition with the AN, Lega and the ex-DC centre-right (what is now the Union of the Centre, UDC) since his 1996 defeat, won a large victory over the left. Despite many coalition crises and his growing unpopularity, Berlusconi accomplished a rare feat – remaining Prime Minister throughout the term of Parliament (until 2006) – but was defeated by a hair in 2006. In 2008, Berlusconi roared back like the proverbial phoenix and merged his Forza Italia with Fini’s AN in a new party, The People of Freedom (PdL).

Forza Italia, especially at the outset, was much more of a marketing product than traditional party (academic literature has described it as a ‘media-mediated personality party’, ‘patrimonial party’ or a ‘business firm model party’) – hierarchical, limited membership, a heavy personalist focus on the media-savvy personality of the leader and political strategies imported from the private sector (focus groups, marketing techniques, reliance on polling). Ideologically, Berlusconi’s parties, although nowadays affiliated with the EPP, have been populist more than traditionally conservative – despite being in power regularly since 1994, Berlusconi’s anti-system and anti-establishment rhetoric (in which Berlusconi presented himself as the businessman who challenged a corrupt party system and promised to apply his ‘entrepreneurial success’ to politics) continued to prove electorally successful. While Berlusconi has used neoliberal language of low taxes and small government since 1994, in practice he has mostly sought to adapt his politics to pre-existing socioeconomic contexts and he has a deft ability to switch positions according to context and region (appealing to both anti-tax and anti-government northerners and state-dependent southerners). Despite countless corruption scandals and a fairly mediocre – at best – record while in government (indeed, he basically spent most of his last term as Prime Minister fighting his own judicial battles and staying out of jail), Berlusconi’s political survival through countless tests since 1994 has been nothing short of remarkable. Although he has been defeated in three legislative elections, two of them were unexpectedly close and the last one (1996) was largely due to the division of his original 1994 coalition. Each time, Berlusconi has made good use of his domineering media personality to shift the focus on him in every election and seize the spotlight through various carefully-staged media events or rhetorical flourishes (his 1994 ‘entrance into the field’, his constant anti-communist rhetoric, the constant use of the myth of the ‘creative entrepreneur’ fighting a vast leftist conspiracy, a ‘persecution syndrome’, his Manichean outlook of good and evil, his 2001 Contratto con gli Italiani, his 2006 and 2013 promises to abolish – and, in 2013, refund – a property tax on primary residences).

The left – with weak leadership, deep divisions between its countless parties and factions defined largely in opposition to Berlusconi and its inability to challenge Berlusconi’s control of the media campaign – failed to measure up to Berlusconi, especially in 2001 and 2008, but the left’s narrow victories in 2006 and 2013 when they should have won by a mile were also quasi-defeats. The Italian left since the 1990s has been a very complex web of alliances, parties and factions – ideologically, it runs the gamut from old-style communists (usually outside the mainstream left and irrelevant since 2008) to ex-DC moderate centrists and liberals. The main ideological groupings traditionally being social democrats (most with PCI roots and former members of the PDS/DS) and moderate centre-left Christian democrats (most with DC/PPI roots and former members of the Daisy party) – but in all cases, the participation of groups to the left (communists, socialists, ecosocialists) and right (conservatives, libertarians) of these main factions have complicated governance (notably in the days of The Olive Tree coalitions) and election strategies. Since the creation of the PD in 2007, the traditional ideological lines have remained important, but there has been a growing divide between an ‘old guard’ of the party – mostly traditionalist social democrats with centrists and younger leftist allies (Young Turks) – and a ‘modernizing’ and reformist wing – traditionally liberals and centrists, with some social democrats. The ‘old guard’, whose most famous name is former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, suffers from an increasingly negative image because of its association with backroom politics, underhanded political maneuvers, stale leadership and inability to successfully take on Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s charm and political power worn off beginning in 2010. That year, Berlusconi’s parliamentary majority was severely reduced with the defection of Gianfranco Fini, the former AN leader and Berlusconi’s one-time heir apparent, and his colleagues. Berlusconi’s undoing, however, came with the worsening of Italy’s economic situation in 2011. Since the 1980s, Italy’s economy has generally been struggling largely due to weak governments unable or unwilling to reform Italy’s economy, tackle ingrained corruption or challenge established economic and political structures, but also to its lack of competitiveness (unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries and productivity declined). In 2011, Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio was actually the second largest in the EU behind Greece (121% of GDP), although because most of Italy’s debt is domestically-owned and Italians have a high level of savings and low household debt, the impact hasn’t been as catastrophic as in Greece. However, in 2011, because of weak growth (Italy was in recession in 2008-2009 and only grew by 0.4% in 2011), budget deficits and debt levels over EU limits, the risk of ‘contagion’ and Berlusconi’s poor economic stewardship (preoccupied with his own financial and sexual scandals), Italy’s economy teetered on the cliff and was said to be on the verge of default. In November 2011, Berlusconi finally lost his majority in the Chamber of Deputies and resigned after the Parliament passed a final austerity package. Berlusconi’s own political failures since 2008 and doubts over Berlusconi’s leadership and personal behaviour were widely blamed for fueling market and EU anxieties about Italy’s precarious economic condition. Berlusconi maintains that he was forced out of office by a conspiracy led by his EU partners (indeed, EU leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy had grown exasperated with him and lost faith in his abilities, and contributed to the pressure which led to his ouster). At home, after remaining popular in 2009 and 2010, Berlusconi was quickly becoming very unpopular – the PdL suffered some stunning defeats, including in Berlusconi’s Milanese heartland, in the May 2011 local elections and the government was defeated on ‘abrogative referendums’ in the summer.

The ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, got the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocratic (or ‘technical’) government led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy. Monti managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners and he reduced the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2012. However, Monti, while still respected by most Italians, lost in popularity because his policies contributed to increased unemployment (from 9.3% when he took office to 11.9% in February 2013 and 12.6% today) and a severe recession in 2012 and 2013 (-2.4% and -1.9% respectively).

Monti resigned in December 2012 after the PdL withdrew its support from his government, and called for elections in February 2013 after Parliament approved the 2013 budget. The 2013 election should have been a cakewalk for the centre-left coalition: Berlusconi and the PdL were both badly weakened in 2012, Berlusconi’s own uncertainty about his candidacy in 2013 (he originally announced he would not run in October, but changed his mind two months later and the Lega – which had been a powerful and influential junior ally in Berlusconi’s last government – saw its high support evaporate after the Lega’s longtime leader Umberto Bossi was implicated in damaging corruption scandals. However, the centre-left coalition’s candidate – elected in an open primary in late 2012 – was Pier Luigi Bersani, a competent administrator but a very bland, unexciting and dull campaigner. The centre-left was victorious, but with a majority of less than 1% over Berlusconi’s PdL-Lega coalition (29.5% to 29.1% in the Chamber election), whose strong performance – despite major loses from 2008 – was one of the main surprises of the election. Although Berlusconi didn’t work for everybody, his populist anti-austerity and soft Eurosceptic message allowed him to roar back with a strong result and another near-win. The other momentous event from the polls was the remarkable result won by the Five Star Movement (M5S), a radical anti-system/anti-establishment populist party led by Genoan comedian Beppe Grillo, who won 25.5% in its first election. Mario Monti’s centre-right, liberal and pro-austerity alliance (with the UDC and Fini’s FLI) did poorly (10.5%).

Beppe Grillo’s M5S (founded in 2009) is often lumped with other populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe, but the M5S is an extremely peculiar party which is quite unlike the traditional right-wing populist party or the radical left (SYRIZA types). The movement – it refuses the pejorative ‘party’ label – was born from and remains centered on Beppe Grillo’s very popular website/blog, and the M5S places a large amount of emphasis on ‘internet direct democracy’ – it often asks its loyal activists to vote on major issues (policy, strategy, candidates, party discipline) online and the M5S’ leaders have used social media to reach out to their supporters and organize Grillo’s large public meetings. With the internet forming the M5S’ backbone and considering the importance it plays in organizing and mobilizing its dedicated online activists, the M5S has some similarities with the Pirate movement in the rest of Europe. Ideologically, the M5S is primarily a populist anti-establishment movement – a rather radical one at that. Grillo grew in popularity for his foul-mouthed tirades against Italy’s corrupt ‘parasitic’ political ‘caste’ (la casta, which enjoys famously generous benefits and conditions) and calls for the destruction of the ‘rotten’ political system and its replacement by vaguely-defined direct democracy. Grillo strongly opposes the public financing of parties (the M5S itself has refused its public funding and its parliamentarians have restituted parts of their wages to help pay off the debt or promote small businesses). Like Berlusconi, Grillo enjoys provocative statements – he said that politicians were worse than the mafia and issued a tongue-in-cheek call on terrorists to blow up Parliament – and theatrical politics – he swam across the Strait of Messina to Sicily during the campaign for the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012. Grillo was successful because, in times of hardship, his radical anti-system message resonated well: most Italians do perceive their politicians (and oftentimes rightly so) as corrupt, selfish, self-absorbed, incompetent or stale hacks and careerists.

Given the centrality of the populist rhetoric, it is hard to define the M5S ideologically. Originally, the M5S was on the left or far-left: the party’s “five stars” refer to public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment. The M5S supports ‘degrowth’, a radical green and anti-consumerist ideology who argue for lower production and consumption because overconsumption has caused environmental issues and social inequality. As a result, the M5S has been hostile to large infrastructure projects (the Strait of Messina bridge and the Lyon-Turin high speed rail in the Val di Susa) and strongly supportive of clean energies and public transportation. The movement has also taken more left-wing stances on same-sex marriage, internet accessibility, public services. On the other hand, Grillo himself has adopted tough stances on immigration: he opposes jus soli and in October 2013, he attacked the efforts of two M5S parliamentarians to repeal the Bossi-Fini law which criminalized illegal immigration; however, in early 2014, Grillo was defeated by his own supporters on the issue – in an online vote, M5S activists voted in favour of efforts to repeal the law (which has since been repealed with the left’s support). On economic matters, the M5S does not fit traditional ideologies: it is against monopolies and anti-tax, but also anti-austerity and generally opposed to the power of big businesses and corporations (private or public). Grillo opposes the Euro and has lamented the ‘lovely old days’ of the lira when Italy could devalue its currency by 40-50%. (you can download the M5S’ platform in English here)

Grillo is a highly controversial figure. To his critics, Grillo is an irresponsible and dangerous demagogue who runs his party with an iron-fist (to many, direct democracy is but a façade and Grillo and his éminence grise/guru Roberto Casaleggio run the show). Indeed, since the party gained prominence in the 2012 local elections, several M5S members and elected officials have been expelled from the party (after being pilloried by Grillo on his blog) for going against the party line on various issues (for example, appearing on TV shows when Grillo strictly prohibited M5S members from doing so).

Because of Italy’s notoriously horrible (former) electoral law, Bersani’s coalition won an absolute majority in the lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – by virtue of having won the most votes nationally and being entitled to a majority bonus granting the largest coalition an absolute majority. But since the Senate has such bonuses apply only regionally, Bersani’s coalition fell short of an absolute majority in the upper house – with 123 seats to Berlusconi’s 117 and Grillo’s 54. Under Italian ‘perfect bicameralism’, a government requires the confidence of both houses; but from the results, it was clear that Bersani would not be able to govern (even in coalition with Monti’s amenable centrist coalition) unless he allied himself with Berlusconi (which would defeat the left’s entire raison-d’etre since 1994) or convincing some Grillists to support him. Bersani unsuccessfully tried to convince the M5S or parts thereof to back him in a stopgap coalition committed to constitutional, electoral and political reform. Grillo and Casaleggio, neither of whom are elected, strongly opposed Bersani’s overtures and blocked the M5S from allying with Bersani.

In April 2013, when it came time for Parliament and delegates from regional councils to elect Italy’s ceremonial President, the political crisis and infighting on the left boiled over to create utter chaos. The PD unwisely allied itself with Berlusconi and the centre on a common presidential candidate, but this alliance (and the candidate – Franco Marini, an 80-year old former trade unionist and technocrat) incensed the PD’s ally to the left (Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom or SEL) and Bersani’s rival within the PD, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. The alliance failed to elect Marini due to defections on the left. On a fourth ballot, the PD and the SEL supported Romano Prodi, a former centre-left Prime Minister and respected senior politician, but Prodi fell far short of the required votes because his candidacy was likely an underhanded ploy by Massimo D’Alema (and perhaps Renzi) to scuttle Bersani. An unprecedented last-ditch exit route was found prior to the six ballot: the left, right and centre convinced incumbent President Giorgio Napolitano, due to retire like all his predecessors before him, to run for reelection (and win) as a solution to the crisis. In return, Napolitano compelled the left and the right to form a grand coalition led by Enrico Letta, a 47-year old centrist from the PD.

Letta formed a coalition with Berlusconi’s PdL Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC) party, the PD and independents. Angelino Alfano, then seen as Berlusconi’s dauphin, became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and the PdL had four other ministers (Infrastructure and Transports; Health; Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Constitutional Reforms). The opposition was led by the fiery M5S, the Lega Nord and the SEL. Letta’s government quickly found itself undermined by both the PD and the PdL. The former was setting up for a leadership crisis after Bersani’s resignation in the wake of the presidential election chaos, and Matteo Renzi – hardly enamoured by Letta – was the favourite to win the PD’s leadership in December 2013. Berlusconi understood that he held the government hostage, and would grudgingly tolerate it as long as it served his own interest. For example, he managed to get Letta’s government to scrap the IMU, the property tax on primary residences which Berlusconi had successfully campaigned against in February. Later, in May-July, Alfano got into hot water when the wife of an exiled Kazakh political dissident was unceremoniously arrested by Italian authorities and deported to Kazakhstan. Alfano was widely suspected of having intervened in the operation (because Berlusconi is a good friend of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Italy’s main oil firm (ENI) has an 17% stake in a Kazakh oil field). Berlusconi stepped in to prevent Alfano from getting into any sort of trouble, and it worked: the PD (minus a few Renzi allies) voted against a M5S-SEL motion of no-confidence in Alfano.

Economically, Letta’s government main priority was to restore investor confidence in Italy and reorient economic and fiscal policies in a ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-jobs’ direction in the midst of prolonged recession and rising unemployment. The government promised to cut employers’ welfare contributions, tax breaks for energy-saving home improvements, expand a guarantee fund for small and medium enterprises and it said it would consider benefits for families and children. Once in office, the government sped up payments of €40 billion in public administration debts, approved tax incentives for employers to employ young workers and began working on a privatization program. For some, Letta’s government has been insufficiently bold in tackling vested interests and promoting competition, largely because both the PdL and PD are tied to special interests and have little interest in disturbing that.

In the meantime, attention turned to Berlusconi’s judicial travails. Il cavaliere‘s innumerable run-ins with the law is nothing new; the business magnate has been indicted on charges of tax fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, bribery, false accounting, violation of antitrust laws, libel, defamation and under-age prostitution. However, until August 2013, Berlusconi had never been convicted of anything – he was acquitted, cases dragged on exceeding the statute of limitations, aptly passed amnesty laws to save himself or changed the law to legalize the alleged offences. In October 2012, an appeals court in Milan confirmed a lower court judgement in late 2012 which had found Berlusconi guilty in the ‘Mediaset’ case, where he and his media giant company (Mediaset) were accused of tax evasion and tax fraud for illicit trade (and false accounting) of movie rights between Mediaset and secret fictive foreign companies in tax havens. The appeals court sentenced him to four years in prison and a five-year ban from holding public office. Berlusconi appealed the case to the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court. Much to Berlusconi’s chagrin, the Court of Cassation proved exceptionally quick at issuing a decision on the case – on August 1 2013. The court confirmed the lower courts’ verdict, with a four year prison sentence but asked the Milanese appeals court to review the length of the ban from public office. A 2006 amnesty law, ironically voted by the left to reduce prison overcrowding, automatically commuted Berlusconi’s jail sentence to one year and since he is over 70 and not a repeat offender, he will not serve any jail time: he was given a choice between house arrest or community service, opting for the former. The Legge Severino, adopted in December 2012 by the Monti government, bans any politician convicted to over two years’ imprisonment from holding or running for public office for six years and supersedes the October 2013 judgement of the Milanese appeals court, which shortened Berlusconi’s ban from public office to two years

On June 24, a penal court in Milan had found Berlusconi guilty of child prostitution and abuse of power in the world-famous Rubygate case, where Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, who was a minor at the time (in 2010) and abusing his powers to have her released from police detention in 2010 (on the pretext that she was Hosni Mubarak’s niece). The court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office, but he will appeal the decision. The Appeals Court is set to rule in July 2014. Berlusconi is still involved in three other ongoing cases. A trial on the bribery of a centre-left senator in 2006 to topple Prodi’s government will open next year; in March 2013, he was sentenced to a year in jail in the ‘Unipol’ case (confidential wiretaps by Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, on conversations between a former Governor of the Bank of Italy and a centre-left politician); the Constitutional Court is set to rule on a defamation case concerning Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate (famous for his corruption-busting work during the 1990s Mani Pulite operations) and the former leader of the Italia dei Valori (IdV) party. Berlusconi, in 2008, had accused Di Pietro of obtaining his degree only with the complicity of the secret services. In 2010, a court in Viterbo acquitted Berlusconi because parliamentary immunity bans any prosecution against words spoken in the exercise of a parliamentary mandate; however, a higher court overturned the decision in 2012.

Berlusconi now faced the threat of expulsion from the Senate. A defense organization sprung up around the embattled leader, who argued – again – that he was the target of a political witch-hunt by ‘red’ judges and complained that the ordeal was taking a toll on him (unable to sleep, lost 11kg and that he was psychologically tormented). Berlusconi’s closest allies pleaded that he be granted agibilità politica (political freedom) through a pardon by President Napolitano or Letta’s intervention. The PD knew that Berlusconi would condition his support for the government to his agibilità politica, but it also knew that intervening in Berlusconi’s favour would be the last straw for the left’s supporters. Meanwhile, Berlusconi announced that the PdL would be disbanding and that Forza Italia would return. Posters in major Italian cities announced that il cavaliere was ancora in campo per l’Italia (‘still in the field for Italy’).

However, the Berlusconian right began showing public cracks in September 2013. That month, while a Senate committee began debating Berlusconi’s expulsion (decadenza), Berlusconi huffed and puffed and, on September 28, ordered the PdL’s ministers to resign from Letta’s cabinet. The pretext was the government’s decision to raise the VAT by 1%, but nearly everybody saw through that – the real reason was that Berlusconi was threatening to pull the plug on Letta over his judicial travails and upcoming expulsion vote. Letta called for a confidence vote on October 2, in the run-up to which Berlusconi continued breathing fire and attacking the government. However, when the vote came, Berlusconi did a double-face and the PdL joined the left and centre in voting for Letta, who won the Senate’s confidence easily 235 to 70. It appears that Berlusconi twisted and turned in agonizing indecision, facing an extremely rare internal revolt. Indeed, all but one of the PdL ministers – who obeyed Berlusconi’s original order – shortly thereafter said it was perhaps a bad decision. One of them was Alfano, who led the doves (colombe) in the PdL – moderates (ex-DC and ex-Socialists) and ministers who placed political stability over Berlusconi’s personal interests. The doves faced the hawks (falchi) and loyalists (lealisti), hardline supporters of Berlusconi who came from the party’s right-wing liberals (Giancarlo Galan, Daniele Capezzone), hard-right (Daniela Santanchè) or camarilla (Raffaele Fitto, Mara Carfagna, Renata Polverini). The hawks-loyalists lost, the doves won and Berlusconi, to save face at the last minute, went with them. It was a shocking twist from Alfano, a Sicilian Christian democrat who had been a subservient justice minister between 2008 and 2011 (passing laws to save his boss from prosecution) and been groomed as Berlusconi’s loyal successor and political ‘son’ (despite Berlusconi publicly insulting him).

On October 4, the Senate committee voted to recommend Berlusconi’s expulsion, sending the matter to the Senate as a whole, and at the end of the month the rules committee called for it to be a public vote (in a private vote, Berlusconi may have tried to bribe PD lawmakers as he had in the past).

Still undeterred, Berlusconi pressed on with the transformation of the PdL into Forza Italia. On November 16, Berlusconi dissolved the PdL into a new Forza Italia. However, one day prior, the ‘doves’ led by Angelino Alfano announced that they would not dissolve into Forza Italia and formed their own party, the New Centre-Right (Nuovo Centrodestra, NCD). The NCD includes all five centre-right ministers in the Letta government, the former Lombardian regional president Roberto Formigoni and his allies, members of the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, former members of the DC who joined the centre-right from various post-DC Christian democratic parties (Carlo Giovannardi, in the UDC until 2008), former members of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Renato Schifani – the former President of the Senate and architect of an unconstitutional immunity law in 2004 and the incumbent regional president of Calabria Giuseppe Scopelliti. Today, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has 69 deputies and 58 senators against 28 deputies and 33 senators for the NCD.

On November 26, as the government was preparing to pass the 2014 budget, Forza Italia withdrew its support from the government and, the next day, voted against the budget which nevertheless passed the Senate 162 to 115, with the NCD’s support. That same day, the Senate finally voted on Berlusconi’sdecadenza under the Legge Severino by public ballot. Berlusconi’s supporters, symbolically dressed in black in the Senate or rallied in front of Berlusconi’s Roman residence, desperately tried to delay the vote or have it held by secret ballot. Berlusconi warned the PD and M5S senators from voting against him, so that they were not later “ashamed in front of their children”, he also insisted on a re-trial, claiming new evidence and witnesses. All to no avail, as the Senate voted 192 to 113 to expel Berlusconi from their ranks. The PD, M5S, SEL, SC, UDC and two small centre-left groups voted in favour, while Forza Italia, the Lega Nord, the NCD and a centre-right autonomist group voted against. The NCD in doing so signaled that their split was not as much against Berlusconi himself as against Berlusconi’s political strategy, which makes the Alfano dissidence different from Gianfranco Fini’s very public split with his former ally in 2010. Indeed, Alfano said that he was still Berlusconian – but “in a different way”.

On December 8, the PD held its long-awaited leadership election. Matteo Renzi, the 39-year old mayor of Florence, who had lost the 2012 centre-left primaries to Bersani, was the favourite. Unlike Bersani, Renzi comes from a PPI (one of the DC’s successor parties) background and joined the PD from the centrist Daisy. Renzi made in name in politics, as president of the province of Florence between 2005 and 2009 and as mayor of Florence since 2009, as a ‘scrapper’ (rottamatore) who took on the political elites (within his own party) and reducing waste, mismanagement and the size of the local public administrations. Despite being only in his first time as mayor and fairly new to politics, he made a name for himself largely by being a competent municipal administrator and his populist/anti-establishment persona which is popular in Italy. Ideologically, Renzi is on the party’s right and challenges the traditional ‘dogma’ of the centre-left (which is nevertheless very moderate in practice). In 2012, Renzi proposed tax cuts for employees, a €100 increase in employees’ net salary paid for by a 15% cut in the costs of public administration, financial support and credit for SMEs, labour market flexibility (flexicurity) along the Scandinavian/Danish model, financial incentives for foreign investors, cracking down on tax evasion and civil unions for homosexual couples. A ‘straight-talker’, he also took strong stances against corruption – abolishing public subsidies to parties (abolished recently by Letta, responding to a M5S demand), reducing the number of parliamentarians, greater accountability of public officials to their constituent (he favours a French electoral system) and constitutional reform to reduce the Senate’s powers. He is often compared to (and accepts such comparisons himself) to Tony Blair and his New Labour.

In 2012, Renzi’s anti-establishment and reformist ‘Third Way’ policy proposals  worried some left-wing voters and he won only 39.1% in the second round of the primary against Bersani, the PD’s leader and candidate of the traditional ‘old guard’ and PD establishment. However, after the 2013 election debacle, the PD was ready for a shake-up with Renzi. In the open primaries which attracted 2.8 million voters, Renzi won 67.6% against 18.2% for Gianni Cuperlo (the oldest establishment candidate, with a PCI background and backed by Bersani/D’Alema and the ‘Young Turks’ on the left) and 14.2% for Pippo Civati (a young anti-establishment candidate from the left, who supported an alliance with the SEL and M5S and had opposed Letta’s government).

The day before, incidentally, the Lega Nord held a leadership election of its own. The historic leader of the party, Umberto Bossi, had been forced to resign from his leadership positions in April 2012 following a crazy scandal in which Bossi and his ‘magic circle’ were accused of embezzling the party’s public financing funds and using the money to pay Bossi’s son. The scandal badly hurt the party, which suffered major loses in the February election, and led to Bossi’s replacement by his rival and one-time deputy, Roberto Maroni. Although the Lega still allied (reluctantly and in return for juicy concessions) with Berlusconi in the last election, Maroni and his followers have tended to be far less supportive of the Lega’s traditional ties to the centre-right (Bossi strongly supported the alliance with Berlusconi in the last few years). The leadership battle opposed Umberto Bossi to Matteo Salvini, a MEP. Salvini was supported by Maroni. Salvini won in a landslide, 81.7% to Bossi’s mere 18.3%. His election signaled a return to fundamentals for the Lega Nord: more independence from the centre-right, hardened ‘Padanian’ nationalism/separatism, strong anti-immigration stances and Euroscepticism (Salvini once decried the euro as a crime against humanity).

On December 4, the Constitutional Court two key parts of the electoral law were unconstitutional. The Italian electoral law (known as the Legge Calderoli, or unofficially the legge porcellum – piglet law – or porcata – literally ‘shit’, as described by its own sponsor, Roberto Calderoli) was passed by Berlusconi’s government in 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the right in the 2006 elections. The law, whose effects we witnessed in the February election, guarantee an absolute majority in the Chamber to whichever coalition wins the most votes nationally by granting them 340 seats (55%), even if said coalition wins only 29% as in 2013! In the Senate, however, the majority bonus is applied regionally (but three regions have no majority bonus) so there is no guarantee that the winning coalition will have an absolute majority in the Senate. This means that the winning coalition either lacks a majority in the Senate (2013), has so tenuous of a majority that it makes it vulnerable to any dissent within the often-fractious coalitions (2006) or the majority is strong but still vulnerable to large blocs of dissent within the coalition (in a landslide election like 2008). The Court declared that the majority bonuses in both houses were unconstitutional and also ruled against the closed party lists, which prevent voters from indicating preferences for candidates on a party list.

In January, Renzi wasted no time and negotiated an agreement over a new electoral law with Berlusconi – the two men agreed to adopt a new electoral system which would guarantee strong governing majorities, abolish perfect bicameralism and reduce the cost of politics. Renzi’s alliance with Berlusconi on the electoral law and his announcement of two other priorities (civil unions and a new immigration law) signaled his energy and stamina, but it also made some in the PD uncomfortable about the moral implications of allying with somebody sentenced by a court and created troubles with the PD’s governing partners – the NCD and the centrists – who feared what an agreement between the two major parties over the electoral system would mean for them. The new electoral law, adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in March 2014, will only apply for the Chamber (a constitutional reform to significantly reduce the Senate’s powers and perhaps turn it into a much less powerful regional chamber like the Bundesrat) and is known as the Italicum. It does not make the electoral system any less convoluted: under the new law, closed lists with 3-6 candidates will run in about 120 multi-member constituencies in Italy – either individually or in coalition. A coalition will need to pass a 12% national threshold, individual parties a 8% national threshold and parties within a coalition will need 4.5% nationally. If a coalition/party obtains 37% of the vote nationally, it wins a 15% majority bonus meaning that it may win up to a maximum of 340 seats (there is no majority bonus if a list wins over 340 seats). If no coalition or party wins 37%, a runoff between the top two lists is organized, in which the winning list receives 321 seats with remaining seats attributed to other lists who met the thresholds in the ‘first round’ (as I understand it). The Chamber of Deputies has produced research files simulating the new system on the last three elections, including a runoff in 2013. It also has, in Italian, some handy infographics which clarify things somewhat. The Chamber rejected amendments to alternate men and women on party lists to ensure gender parity.

By February 2014, Letta was increasingly isolated and facing rumours that Renzi was pressuring him to resign in his favour. Letta’s government was criticized, notably by Renzi, for the slow pace of reforms. By February 11-12, Letta pressed Renzi to publicly detail his intentions and tried to appear tough, but unlike in October 2013, he found himself beaten by Renzi. On February 13, the PD executive voted 136-16 in favour of Renzi’s proposal for a new government for a new phase and to speed up reforms. Despite his very public displeasure with what had transpired, Letta had no choice but to hand his government’s regination to Napolitano the next day. On February 17, Renzi was officially tasked with forming a new government, which was sworn in on the 22nd. The Renzi government includes only 16 full ministers (one of the lowest), half of which are women (but if junior ministers and secretaries of state are included, the government remains overwhelmingly male) and has the lowest average age (47) of any Italian government. The government’s junior allies – the NCD, UDC, SC and minor centrist parties – remained in government, and there was little turnover of their ministers – Angelino Alfano remains Minister of the Interior, although he is no longer Deputy Prime Minister. There was significant turnover of PD ministers, with younger pro-Renzi members filling portfolios and women taking some important portfolios (foreign affairs, defense, constitutional reform). The economy portfolio was retained by an independent technocrat.

The very rapid (and, to casual followers of Italian politics, unexpected) succession of events which led to Renzi’s accession to power was received negatively by most Italians, including PD voters with an otherwise good opinion of Renzi. PD supporters felt that Renzi was making an enormous mistake, because of the optics of the situation (making him look like a backstabber, and the very traditional First Republic backroom replacements of governments without elections) and the potential that actually leading government would tarnish Renzi’s star profile. Few predicted that the government will be able to last until the end of the legislature’s term in 2018, as Renzi wishes.

Renzi unveiled his proposal for pro-growth stimulus reforms in March. His landmark initiative is a proposal to cut income taxes on lower income taxpayers, giving them a tax credit of about €80 per month for an overall cost of €10 billion to the state, to be financed by some deficit spending (but Italy has pledged to respect its European commitments), cuts in unproductive spending and administrative reforms, a raise in capital gains taxation and savings from lower interest rates. The government also plans to cut taxes on work, speed up the payment of the debt and a labour reform which would include universal unemployment benefits. These measures are ambitious and greeted with cautious optimism from voters, but the government will need to work with a difficult economic situation: although Italy’s economy should grow in 2014 (+0.6%), the debt is at over 135% of GDP and unemployment remains frustratingly high at 12.6% (far higher for youths).

EP election

The EP election was fairly important, as it was the first nationwide test of public opinion since 2013 (there have been local elections and several regional elections since, though) and the first electoral test for Renzi. EP elections in Italy, like in other countries (notably France), are an opportunity for smaller parties to test their strengths running individually. It was unclear where public opinion really stood, although most polls indicated that the centre-left had a narrow lead over the Berlusconian right coalition and the M5S was moving closer to its 2013 results after dropping off a bit after the election.

The PD renewed its ranks somewhat, once again promoting younger women to top spots on the party’s lists (but in the open-list system, their election is not guaranteed even with a top placement on the list). The PD’s campaign was pro-European and emphasized that ‘Italy was changing course’ and that Europe should follow suit. The party promoted a pro-growth agenda to reduce youth unemployment, grow the economy and build a ‘social Europe’. The PD was associated with the the South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP), the dominant centre-right party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) whose sole MEP (elected thanks to the threshold exception for linguistic minority parties) sits with the EPP group (the PD sits with the S&D group). The SVP itself was allied with an autonomist party in the neighboring province of the Trentino (the PATT) and the party representing the Slovenian minority (SSK) in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

The M5S has been uncompromising in its opposition to the government, and Grillo, leading his movement from outside Parliament, has remained controversial and abrasive. However, the M5S has struggled somewhat since February 2013 (even if it retains solid support). A new party in Parliament, with a caucus heavily made up of first-time, inexperienced novice politicians drawn from different social horizons and drawing on different political traditions and ideologies, it has had a tough time adapting to Parliament – especially how their leadership and many of the parliamentarians themselves consider the Parliament to be a corrupt and illegitimate institution which should, in a perfect world, be abolished and replaced by internet-based direct democracy. Beppe Grillo is an autocratic leader, who is rather intolerant of any dissent or criticism, and doesn’t hesitate to insult any critics – internal or external, politicians or journalists – with crude ad hominem attacks. Grillo just recently allowed his followers to go on TV, which he had until then boycotted. His angry followers often enthusiastically join Grillo’s countless attacks on his ‘enemies’ launched from his blogs. By now, several deputies and even more senators have been expelled or voluntarily left the M5S – from 109 deputies and 54 senators, the M5S is down to 104 and 40 respectively. Most recently, in February 2014, four M5S senators were expelled following an internet vote (in the unique Grillist tradition, expulsions are voted on by M5S’ online activists) for criticizing Grillo’s behaviour during a consultation with Renzi, which Grillo had been forced (by his members) to attend.

The M5S’ European campaign focused on seven points: a referendum on Euro membership, abolition of the Fiscal Compact, adoption of Eurobonds, alliance of Mediterranean countries for a common currency (Euro 2), investments in innovation to be excluded from 3% deficit limit calculations, financing for domestic agricultural activities and abolition of the balanced budget requirements.

Forza Italia – Berlusconi’s party, now centered around the pro-Berlusconi hawks (falchi), loyalists (lealisti) and mediators (moderates) – has remained a significant force, despite Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate in November 2013. Berlusconi is still facing pending trials, most significantly in the Rubygate prostitution case, and is also forbidden from leaving the Italian territory without a judge’s permission (his passport has been seized). Berlusconi announced his intention to run for the EP in May 2014, despite being barred from holding or running for public office. In March 2014, the Court of Cassation confirmed the judicial two-year ban from holding public office, effectively barring Berlusconi from running for the EP. In early May 2014, Berlusconi began serving his one-year community service at a home care centre for elderly dementia patients, where he must work for four hours a week. Some of Berlusconi’s closest allies have also felt the pressure of the judiciary: Marcello Dell’Utri, one of Berlusconi’s oldest allies, was sentenced by the Supreme Court to seven years in jail in 2014 for tax fraud, false accounting and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri had fled to Lebanon before the sentence fell, but he has since been arrested by Lebanese authorities and is awaiting extradition to Italy.

There is increasing speculation that Berlusconi is preparing a dynastic succession. Marina Berlusconi, his eldest daughter (at 47) and president of the Fininvest holding company, is often cited by the media and Berlusconians alike as the preferred heir, but she does not appear interested. Her younger brother, Pier Silvio, vice-president of Mediaset, is more discrete and denies any political ambition even if he is said to be brilliant. Barbara Berlusconi, the eldest (29) of three children with his ex-wife Veronica Lario, now has a position on the board of AC Milan but is not usually seen as a future politician.

Forza Italia ran a populist, Eurosceptic and anti-German campaign. Berlusconi, his usual self, said that “for Germans, the concentration camps never existed” and continued babbling about the President (who didn’t pardon him) and the judges (who took a political decision). The party ran in coalition with smaller parties: whatever is left of UDEUR (the party of venal and corrupt incumbent MEP Clemente Mastella who was formerly allied with the centre-left until he pulled the plug on Prodi’s cabinet in 2008), the Grande Sud (a southern ‘regionalist’ party made up of three regional parties in Sicily, Campania and Apulia largely made up of PdL or MPA dissidents) and The Populars of Italy Tomorrow (an empty shell of pro-Berlusconi UDC dissidents in the south).

Under Matteo Salvini, the Lega Nord has regained some lost support and the party has been reoriented on a more anti-EU and anti-immigration platform. For example, under Salvini, the Lega, whose MEPs sat with the UKIP’s EFD group in the last EP, allied himself with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Heinz-Christian Strache in the EAF; for the EP elections, the Lega Nord dropped the traditional word ‘Padania’ at the bottom of the logo in favour of the slogan ‘Basta €uro’ or ‘enough Euro’. The Lega ran in coalition with Die Freiheitlichen, a right-wing populist German party which is the second-largest party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) and the Movement for Autonomies (MPA), the Sicilian-based party of former regional president Raffaele Lombardo. Matteo Salvini was the party’s top candidate in every region, something which is legal and somewhat commonplace in Italy (in 2009, Berlusconi was the PdL’s top candidate in all EP constituencies despite being the sitting Prime Minister, and Umberto Bossi also topped all the Lega’s lists that year).

On the right, the new Brothers of Italy (FdI), a national conservative party founded by PdL members in December 2012, ran independently. The FdI emerged in late 2012, largely founded by ex-AN members of the PdL who had come from the AN’s moderate pro-Berlusconi ‘liberal conservative’ faction. Although they were somewhat critical of Berlusconi, the FdI received Berlusconi’s blessing as he hoped that it would create an outlet for right-wing and nationalist voters who were a bit queasy with him but could nevertheless be brought to still support him indirectly. The party joined the centre-right coalition in the 2013 election, but opposed the Letta government. Under the leadership of Giorgia Meloni, the FdI has shifted towards the right, making a clear bid to reclaim the identity of the former AN (whose members are divided between Forza Italia, the FdI and various small hard-right parties) but also informally associating with Marine Le Pen at the pan-EU level (although there is no formal alliance, unlike in the case of the Lega). The former mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a former fascist who was defeated for reelection in 2013, has since endorsed the party. The FdI successfully won the right to rename itself ‘Brothers of Italy-National Alliance’ and use the logo of the old AN in its logo. The FdI’s appropriation of the AN identity has irked smaller parties with roots in the old party, notably Francesco Storace’s La Destra, a hard-right splinter of the AN (from 2007) now allied with Berlusconi. Giorgia Meloni was the FdI’s top candidate in every constituency.

Angelino Alfano’s NCD, for its first election, ran in alliance with Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Christian democratic Union of the Centre (UDC), which had found itself obliterated in the 2013 election (1.8%) when it ran in coalition with Mario Monti. The alliance is unsurprising: the NCD and UDC are both likely too weak to win more than 4% on their own, both are junior allies in the Renzi government, the UDC has been looking (unsuccessfully) to build a new centre-right/centrist coalition (often seen as a neo-DC) with Berlusconian dissidents (first Fini, now Alfano) and both the NCD and UDC are ideologically very similar (most of the NCD’s members are ex-DC southerners, and the NCD is effectively a Christian democratic/social conservative party similar to the UDC). Both Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the NDC-UDC are part of the EPP, but given Berlusconi’s new anti-EU (and anti-Merkel) populist campaigns, the NCD-UDC fits in much more nicely in the EPP mainstream while Berlusconi is a bit of an Orbán in the EPP. Two NCD cabinet ministers were top candidates: Maurizio Lupi (transports) in the Northwest and Beatrice Lorenzin (health) in the Centre.

Mario Monti’s hastily assembled and fractious party for the 2013 elections, the Civic Choice (SC), had managed to win 8.3% of the vote in the 2013 election (in the process, decimating Casini’s UDC and killing Fini’s FLI) but the SC has since collapsed. Monti lost control over his party, and in response to the growing tensions between him and other SC members, decided to resign as the SC’s president in October 2013. The party then split between the pro-Monti liberals, who supported a centrist strategy (anti-Berlusconi but also anti-UDC) and were liberal reformists and the Christian democrats, including Mario Mauro, who were open to alliances with Berlusconi and close to the UDC. The party was pretty equally divided between both wings, but the liberals took control of the SC and have since aligned it even closer to the PD-led centre-left alliance and the Renzi cabinet. The Christian democrats split off and created Populars for Italy (PpI), which formed a common group with the UDC in Parliament (Per l’Italia). The PpI-UDC group has 10 senators (7 for the SC) and 18 deputies (27 for the SC).

The SC participated in a common liberal list for the EP elections, European Choice (SE) with the smaller Democratic Centre (CD), the neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline and other tiny parties. The SE affiliated with the ALDE at the pan-European level (although one MEP who supported the SE, ex-AN member Cristiana Muscardini, sat with the ECR) and was endorsed by ALDE presidential candidate Guy Verhofstadt and former Italian Prime Minister and President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi.

On the left, several communists and ecosocialist/radical left parties in opposition to the government formed a common alliance, L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, to support the GUE/NGL presidential candidacy of Greek SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras. Although launched by independent left-wing intellectuals, the partisan base of the alliance was formed by Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) – the only party of the radical left with seats in Parliament (3% in 2013 in alliance with the PD), the moribund Communist Refoundation Party (PRC), Antonio Ingroia’s anti-corruption movement (Ingroia, a leftist magistrate, was the top candidate of the leftist Civil Revolution alliance in 2013 with the PRC, Greens, Italian Communists and IdV, but won only 2.3% and has since collapsed), the Italian Pirates (seemingly a very tiny party) and the South Tyrolean Greens (already allied with the SEL in 2013). The SEL, which did fairly poorly in 2013, saw its support increase somewhat in the early days of the Letta government but it has since struggled. Nichi Vendola is less active in national politics and the SEL has been hurt by internal divisions, as a few parliamentarians have left the caucus to cautiously support Renzi (encouraged by his tax policies) while the SEL leadership remains firmly in the opposition. The Other Europe with Tsipras led an anti-austerity but pro-European leftist campaign and hovered around the 4% threshold for most of the campaign.

The weak and irrelevant Italian Greens ran a separate list, Greens Italy-European Greens – an alliance of the old moribund Federation of the Greens and the new Greens Italy, a party founded in 2013 by environmentalists from leftist and rightist parties (PD, MSI-AN, PdL, FLI, Radicals) and led by prominent Italian Green leader and former MEP Monica Frassoni.

Italy of Values (IdV), an anti-corruption party formerly led by famous Milanese magistrate Antonio Di Pietro (who is Berlusconi’s bête noire), won 8% in the 2009 EP elections at the peak of the IdV’s success as part of the centre-left coalition with the PD. Since 2009, however, the IdV has collapsed due to significant infighting between Di Pietro’s centrist/moderate leadership and the far-left direction supported by Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and mayor of Naples. de Magistris’s supporters left the party, but IdV was left badly beaten and further worn out by corruption allegations and the M5S’ growth as a more forceful and radical anti-establishment protest option. Di Pietro has since left the party’s leadership and the IdV appears to be quasi-defunct. The IdV’s MEP sat with the ALDE, although the IdV was an Italian oddity with its anti-corruption populist politics and hardly your usual EU liberal party.

Results

Turnout: 57.22% (-7.83%)
MEPs: 73 (+1)
Electoral system: Limited preferential list PR (up to 3 preferences), 4% national threshold (50,000 vote threshold for linguistic minority parties allied with a national party), five constituencies (Northeast Italy, Northwest Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy, Insular Italy)

PD (S&D) 40.81% (+14.69%) winning 31 seats (+10)
M5S (EFD) 21.15% (+21.15%) winning 17 seats (+17)
Forza Italia (EPP) 16.81% (-18.45%) winning 13 seats (-16)
Lega Nord (EAF) 6.15% (-4.06%) winning 5 seats (-4)
NCD-UDC (EPP) 4.38% (-2.13%) winning 3 seats (-2)
L’Altra Europa con Tsipras (GUE/NGL) 4.03% (-2.49%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Fratelli d’Italia-AN 3.66% (+3.66%) winning 0 seats (±0)
European Greens-Green Italy (G-EFA) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Scelta Europea (ALDE) 0.72% (+0.72%) winning 0 seats (±0)
IdV (ALDE) 0.66% (-7.34%) winning 0 seats (-7)
SVP (EPP) 0.5% (+0.03%) winning 1 seat (±0)
Io Cambio-MAIE 0.18% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Italy 2014 - EP

In the EP elections, Matteo Renzi’s PD won an unexpectedly massive victory with 40.81% of the vote, the largest percentage share of the vote for an Italian party nationally since 1958 and the PD’s best result in any national election. Despite significantly lower turnout (-18%), the PD also won more votes (11.2 million votes) than in the 2013 general election (8.6 million votes in the Chamber). Electing 31 MEPs to Brussels, the PD is now the largest single national party in the EP and in the S&D group (ahead of the German SPD). The PD’s landslide was totally unexpected: the last public polls before the legal polling blackout during the last two weeks of the campaign showed the PD leading the M5S by about 6-10 points (the PD beat the M5S by nearly 20, and all polls showed the PD at 30-33%) and there were apparently well-founded rumours during the blackout that the M5S was polling closer to the PD in the final stretch (Grillo notably attracted a much larger crowd at his big rally in the Piazza San Giovanni in Rome than Renzi did a few minutes away at the Piazza del Popolo). Many were taken aback by the PD’s success, notably Grillo who had been characteristically virulent and hyperbolic in the days preceding the vote (saying that if the M5S won, ‘the system would fall’). For Renzi, the PD’s victory is not just pleasing information – it provides him with much-needed democratic legitimacy from the Italian electorate. Grillo and Berlusconi never failed to remind their listeners that Renzi took office without any popular mandate and therefore lacked democratic legitimacy. In a major boost for Renzi’s standing as Prime Minister, he can now fall back on the PD’s landslide victory to strengthen his leadership.

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

He has already used his new weight in the PD to his own advantage: a PD senator who was proving a thorn in the side in a Senate committee was turfed from the committee and chose to ‘auto-exclude’ himself from the PD.

The M5S did poorly, with only 21.2% of the vote and suffering major loses from the party’s record 2013 result, falling from 8.7 million votes and 25.6% to only 5.8 million votes. It was a very poor performance for Grillo, who had made the EP election about Renzi and forcing Renzi to enter the fray personally to defend the PD – Grillo attacked Renzi’s tax measures (his ‘€80 charity’) and was certain that the M5S’ tremendous activist base and mobilizing capacity in the piazze would certainly translate into strong support. Immediately after the election, Grillo tried to spin the M5S’ poor performance by noting that it was Italy’s second largest party and attacked retirees (the M5S’ weakest demographic, by far) for ‘not wanting change and not preoccupying themselves with the faith of their grandkids’. He promised that while the M5S did not vinciamo noi (we win [now]) it will vinciamo poi (win [later]). However, the M5S and Grillo proved more pragmatic and reasonable as the immediate furor died down. An internal party document leaked by the media blamed a ‘destructive energy’, a ‘disturbing message, unreassuring and unrealiable’ campaign and lamented the M5S’ decision to ignore TV shows in a country where 15-20 million inform themselves through television. Grillo, on June 15, said that his party was ‘serious’ and open to talking to the government over the electoral reform (for which the M5S has published its alternative to the Renzi-Berlusconi Italicum, with preferential PR in a single round).

Which group the M5S would fit in in the new EP was always a major mystery, because of the M5S’ ideological peculiarity compared to other parties in the EU, even ‘fellow’ populist movements. Although some assumed that given the little obvious links with existing groups, Grillo would prefer to have his MEPs sit as non-inscrits, it would seem that the advantages which accrue to MEPs aligned with a EP group convinced Grillo to push for the M5S’ membership in a parliamentary group. By virtue of the M5S’ rather leftist views on many issues, many presumed that the Greens-EFA or even GUE/NGL groups would be the most likely candidates, but Grillo instead decided to meet with UKIP leader Nigel Farage although the M5S still opened talks with the G-EFA as well. It soon became clear that Grillo’s sympathies leaned strongly towards Farage and the UKIP’s EFD group, which led the G-EFA to reject M5S’ advances in early June. ALDE also rejected working with the M5S, although I doubt that ever was a serious possibility. On June 12, the M5S finally held an online referendum for its members to decide on the M5S’ group membership in the new EP – the choices were between EFD, the ECR and non-inscrit status, although the cards were heavily stacked in favour of EFD. In a low turnout vote, 78% of M5S supporters voted for the EFD – the anti-EU, Eurosceptic, anti-establishment rhetoric of Farage and his colleagues and the EFD’s status as a fairly ‘loose’ group likely heavily pushed the M5S’ supporters towards them (over a ECR group which is far more ‘establishment’, as Farage pointed out in a video recorded for M5S supporters). Likely as a result of the entrance of the 17 new Grillist MEPs, the EFD group renamed itself ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ or EFDD.

Berlusconi did even worse: with only 16.8%, it is an absolute disaster for Forza Italia – its 4.6 million votes on May 25 a far cry from the 7.3 million won by the PdL in 2013. It is worth pointing out that Berlusconi was not a candidate (he still has an ability to draw out additional votes which his party itself is unable to get out in local or regional elections) and the party likely put less effort into these elections than it would in a general election (and it was a bit sidelined in the media with a focus on a Renzi-Grillo battle), but it’s still a very poor result for the party given that Berlusconi still took centre-stage in the Forza Italia campaign. Berlusconi downplayed the results by blaming the low turnout – 57.2% is very high turnout for a EP election in a country where voting is not mandatory, but it is quite low compared to past EP elections in Italy and all other types of elections in a country with a high-turnout tradition. He regretted not winning over 20%, but, of course, there’s no questions asked about his leadership. Berlusconi remains a major political player and a force to be reckoned with in Italian politics, to the displeasure of many EU countries and Italians.

The Lega Nord won 6.2%, a small but significant improvement from the Lega’s disastrous 2013 results (4.1%) and a gain in raw votes as well (up to 1.68 million). However, it is down from the Lega’s record-high performance in the last EP election, when it had won over 3 million votes and 10.2% (electing 9 MEPs). Matteo Salvini has managed to slowly lift the Lega’s fortunes after the 2012-2013 disaster, although it’s still a tough spell for the party. The Lega scored minor gains outside of ‘Padania’ with its primarily anti-immigration/Eurosceptic creed, but it remains – obviously – a northern regionalist party in terms of support.

On the centre-right, the NCD-UDC alliance won 4.4%, down 2.1% on the UDC’s performance alone in 2009 and still a fairly weak showing for Alfano’s new party (and another terrible result for a UDC which appears in terminal condition since 2013). As with past Berlusconian splinters – Fini’s FLI in 2010-2013 (reminder: for all the talk of Fini replacing Berlusconi as the leader of the right, the FLI ended with 0 seats in Parliament and less than 0.5% in 2013) – the Italian right-wing electorate still prefers Berlusconi to any ‘polished’ or ‘moderate’ dissident. Berlusconi is a polarizing figure, with a majority of Italian voters having no time for him but who still commands the often quite motivated support of millions of Italians through his charisma and stamina after 20 years in the political arena. Unsurprisingly, it looks quite unlikely that Alfano will succeed in his goal of preparing the field for Berlusconi’s retirement/death and the realignment of the right which will naturally ensue – in a general election with the new electoral law, a NCD-UDC coalition which wins 4% will not have any seats! The only thing which Alfano could say to spin the poor result was that he remained one of the main pillars of the government – a silent call for Renzi not to get carried away and forget about his increasingly minor allies?

Fratelli d’Italia-AN was the largest party below the threshold, at 3.7% and just over 1 million votes. It is far from recreating the old AN, but the FdI is up from just below 2% and 666k votes in 2013.

The radical left Tsipras list landed just above the threshold, with 4% and 1.1 million votes; up marginally from the SEL’s 3.2% in 2013 but actually down from the combined result of the parliamentary SEL+extraparliamentary RC in 2013 and the combined result of the proto-SEL coalition and a communist list in the 2009 EP election (3.1% and 3.4% respectively for a total of 6.5% in what was hardly a good year for the Italian radical left). The IdV collapsed to only 0.7% of the vote, as expected.

The other list ‘supporting’ a EC presidential candidate – the pro-Verhofstadt SE, did far worse than expected with only 0.7% of the vote – actually landing behind the Greens list, which won 0.9% (not too shabby considering the miserable state of the green movement in the country). This confirms that, come the next general election, the SC will be the latest short-lived Italian fad party to join the long list of such parties since 1994.

Analysis

The PD’s large victory is the result of a few different factors. Firstly, there was a clear Renzi effect which saw a direct transfer of votes from voters who had backed other parties in 2013 to the PD in 2014 (despite the lower turnout). The effect is the result of significant albeit cautious optimism in Renzi’s new government and his leadership – his energy, youthfulness, frenetic activism and his ability to do something concrete for once (electoral law, tax reform, gender parity). This article (in Italian) by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali shows that the PD was rated as the most credible party, far ahead of the M5S and FI, on nearly all issues – most notably on the economy and employment, although it does seem important to note that on nearly all top issues, a larger number of voters found no party whatsoever to be credible. Nevertheless, the PD had a significant advantage over the M5S and FI on issues which mattered, while FI lacked a single ‘niche issue’ (besides taxes) and the M5S was limited to expertise in its ‘niche issues’ of fighting la casta and the costs of politics. The article also found that voters’ assessments of party credibility mattered most to PD and M5S supporters, while Forza Italia’s supporters voted for Berlusconi’s party for ideological reasons rather than assessments of party credibility on issues (unsurprisingly). The problem for the M5S here is that, by focusing quasi-exclusively on issues such as political corruption and the political system, it fails to appear credible on issues which matter to more Italians.

According to an IPR analysis, about a quarter of the PD’s vote was cast ‘thinking only about Renzi’ (the rest was cast ‘thinking solely about the party’), which would mean that the Renzi effect was worth 10.8% to the PD, adding that amount to the 30% of votes which went to the PD for traditional partisan reasons – a number which would make sense, given that the PD’s base in normal circumstances seems to be about 30% of the vote or a bit lower. The Renzi effect has had people asking if the election was a victory for the PD or rather a victory for the ‘Party of Renzi’.

Of course, the flip side here is that a vote based on cautious optimism and the temporary credibility of one party over another is very volatile. Indeed, the other main lesson of this election is the confirmation of the extreme volatility of the Italian electorate in recent years. According to a study by Demopolis, only 53% of those who voted in 2013 ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2014 by voting for the same party while 45% of 2013 voters either did not vote or voted for another list. The 2013 election was also quite volatile – only 54% of 2008 voters ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2013 and 39% voted differently or did not vote. With this in mind, the PD’s success in 2014 could prove remarkably short-lived if Renzi and his government don’t live up to expectations.

The other major factor behind the PD’s vote is differential turnout. Geographically, turnout was down from 2013 (-16.5%) in every region and down from 2009 (-7.8%) in all but two regions. As is usually the norm in Italian elections, turnout was lowest in the Mezzogiorno and the islands, with 51.7% turnout in the Southern EP constituency and 42.7% turnout in the Insular EP constituency, compared to 61.8% in Central Italy, 64.5% in Northeast Italy and 66% in Northwest Italy. It is tough to see obvious links between turnout and partisanship geographically, although the central zona ‘rossa’ – the historic left-wing (formerly PCI) strongholds of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria and Marche – saw the highest turnout at 68.2% overall (over 70% in Umbria and Emilia-Romagna) and also the lowest decline in turnout (-12.3%) of any major region (north, south and Red Zone) from the 2013 election.

Exit polls and vote flow analyses, however, showed clear differential turnout in the PD’s favour. The centre-left, in short, was able to mobilize its electorate far better than the M5S or the Berlusconian right, who had many voters sit out the EP elections. Several pollsters and academics have done their own analyses of vote flows compared to the 2013 election, and despite different numbers in the details, the broad picture is similar. Demopolis looked at the 2013 votes of ‘new non-voters’ – those who voted in 2013 but did not vote in 2014 – and found that 34% had voted M5S, 31% had voted PdL, 22% had backed another party and only 13% supported the PD. Looking at it from a different angle, Tecnè reported that 42% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote, compared to 53% of Grillist supporters in 2013 and 50% of PdL voters. SWG had the most complex and detailed vote flow analysis, and found that the M5S lost 2.660 million votes to abstention, the PdL/FI lost 1.750 million and the PD lost only 1.400 million of its 2013 voters to abstention.

Vote flow analysis from 2013 to 2014 in five major Italian cities – Turin, Venice, Parma, Florence and Palermo (source: CISE in ‘Renzi, alta fedeltà e nuovi voti a 360°‘ by Roberto D’Alimonte)

This article published by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali calculated voter flows in major cities using election results while another article looked at Milan and Rome in more detail. In all seven cities sampled, the PD’s retention of its 2013 vote was quite extraordinary – ranging from 95% in Florence to 71% in Palermo. Outside Palermo, the the PD did not lose more than 10% of its 2013 vote to abstention – for example, in Milan, only 2% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote in 2014. It is even more striking if you compare the PD’s electorate’s behaviour to that of M5S and PdL voters in 2013. In Venice and Palermo, over half of the PdL’s supporters did not vote in 2014, and over 40% did not vote in Rome. In Rome, Milan, Parma and Palermo, over 40% of the M5S’ supporters did not vote in 2014 (and 38% in Florence and 35% in Venice). The radical left – SEL and RC in 2013 – also saw a number of their voters sit out in May 2014, notably in Venice (where 50% and 45% of RC and SEL voters respectively didn’t vote).

The PD’s ability to retain its 2013 electorate so well combined with the demobilization of M5S and Berlusconian supporters from 2013 contributed heavily to the PD’s success. But the PD also gained votes from other parties, given that it not only ‘held’ its 2013 votes it also gained votes from 2014 despite lower turnout (the only other lists who increased their votes from 2013 were the Lega and FdI). The main source of new votes from the PD was, unsurprisingly, Mario Monti’s old SC, which is practically dead. According to SWG, the PD gained 1.270 million votes from the SC – only 170,000 of the SC’s 2013 voters went for the ‘European Choice’ list in this election and 250,000 went for Alfano’s NCD-UDC. 850,000 of the SC’s 2.82 million voters from last year did not vote in 2014. The flow analyses cited above confirm the exit polls: in the seven cities sampled, the PD won between 44% and 60% of the SC’s 2013 voters while another 10-15% went for Alfano. According to SWG, about 1.090 million M5S voters switched to the PD (that’s about 12.5% of M5S supporters from 2013) – again confirmed by flow analysis at the municipal level – in five of the seven cities (not Milan and Rome), the PD won between 6% and 17% of M5S votes. A smaller amount came from the ex-PdL (430,000), again a small transfer corroborated at the local level. The PD also gained smaller number of voters from the radical left (420,000 from ‘other centre-left parties’ in SWG, presumably SEL), the UDC-FLI (110,000) and other centre-right parties in 2013 (90,000). The PD only ceded 350,000 votes to the M5S, 230,000 to the Tsipras list and very small numbers to the right – for a total of 2,050,000 2013 votes lost (largely to abstention) more than compensated by the 4,570,000 votes the PD has gained since 2013 – including 1.14 million from people who hadn’t voted in 2013 but did so in 2014.

Demopolis reported that 66% of the PD’s 2014 voters had already voted PD in 2013 – it gained 13% from the SC, 9% from Grillo, 7% from non-voters and only 5% from the PdL.

The M5S and FI suffered the bulk of their loses to abstention – overall, SWG estimates that the M5S lost 4.56 million votes (and gained 1.66 million) from 2013, while Forza Italia lost 3.69 million and gained only 960,000 votes from 2013. As noted above, a small albeit not totally insignificant percentage of M5S and FI voters from 2013 switched to the PD this year. The M5S lost some votes to the Lega (-240k), FI (-130k), FdI (-130k) and Tsipras (-120k); FI also lost some support to the M5S (-410k), the NCD (-470k), the Lega (-340k) and FdI (-220k). Forza Italia gained very little votes from other parties. The flow analysis in the seven cities found similar results, with local differences – in the north, FI lost up to 6% (in Milan) of its 2013 vote to the Lega Nord; throughout the country, FI lost about 2-5% of its 2013 vote to Alfano’s folks and about 7% to the FdI.

For Tecnè, Grillo and Berlusconi only held 34% of their 2013 vote and lost most heavily to abstention with single-digit loses to the centre-left. IPR’s analysis unwisely focused only on 2013 voters who voted in 2014 and ignored the significant number who didn’t do so.

According to SWG, the Lega Nord lost 500,000 votes – the three-fifths of those votes were lost to abstention – and gained 800,000 votes – +340k from Forza Italia, +240k from the M5S, +140k from other parties and +80k from 2013 non-voters. Interestingly, the vote flow analysis in the cities shows that the Lega’s 2013 electorate may not have been all that loyal – it held only 46% of its 2013 vote in Milan, 43% in Turin and 44% in Venice (although these are three northern cities where the Lega is particularly weak), with a fairly significant number of 2013 Lega voters opting for other parties in the EP election (in Venice, 36% apparently voted PD; in Milan, it shed 18% to FI and 10% to the PD).

The NCD-UDC list, in SWG’s analysis, found 470,000 of its 1.2 million votes from the PdL, 200,000 from the UDC and 250,000 from the Monti SC. It gained a small number of votes from the M5S, and even less from others, the PD and 2013 non-voters. In the Rome and Milan analysis, the study showed that the NCD-UDC’s voters in 2014 had split their votes fairly equally between Monti and Berlusconi in 2013 (in Milan – where it did well – it got 44% from the PdL and 36% from the Monti list, in Rome it got 47% from Monti and 37% from the PdL.

The vote flow analyses reveal, unsurprisingly, that we cannot assume that the Tsipras list simply won the votes of those who had backed the SEL and RC lists in the 2013 election. According to SWG, the Tsipras list gained the most votes (440,000 out of 1.1 million) from the SEL with smaller amounts from the PD (230k), RC (200k) and M5S (120k). This would mean that about 40% of the SEL’s 2013 voters and only 26% of the RC’s 2013 voters went to the Tsipras list this year – a result confirmed municipally, with between 35% and 58% of the SEL’s voters in our seven cities voting Tsipras and between 13% and 31% of RC voters from last years going for Tsipras. The RC’s 2013 voters also went to the M5S in fairly significant numbers (between 12% and 40% across the seven cities) and a good number – up to half in Venice – not voting. The SEL, in contrast, lost mostly to abstention and the PD with only minor leakage to the M5S.

Finally, as noted above, the 2013 SC Monti vote went heavily towards the PD (45% in SWG) – no surprise here – and only 6% per SWG went to the SE list (in the municipal election, the SE polled too poorly for it to be analyzed). Another 250,000 (per SWG, or 8%) went to the NCD-UDC and 850,000 did not turn out (30%).

In Rome and Milan, the FdI’s electorate was largely made up (about 40%) of people who had already voted for the Berlusconian centre-right in 2013 (the analysis linked to above includes 2013 FdI voters with the PdL), but it also drew a significant (but not very large) number from Monti, M5S and the PD.

An Ipsos Italia exit poll also reported similar results in its flow analysis – the tremendous retention of its base by the PD, the heavy loses of nearly all other parties to abstention, the PD gains from the old Monti centre (and some from the SEL+RC) and a fairly good vote retention from the Lega.

Largest party by comuni (source: YouTrend)

The PD’s victory changed the demographic makeup of its electorate somewhat. The most remarkable result, noted by most Italian pollsters, was the very marked improvement of the PD with entrepreneurs and self-employed workers – a demographic which had voted heavily for the right in 2008 (68%) and split between the M5S and the right in 2013 (40.2% for Grillo vs. 34.6% for the right and 16.4% for the left). According to Demopolis, the PD now won 33% of their votes and EMG reports that the PD took 30.7% with them against 25.1% for the M5S and 18.5% for FI. Ipsos’ data differentiates between entrepreneurs/managers/liberal professions and self-employed/traders/craftsmens – mixing the traditionally anti-leftist vote of self-employed workers and entrepreneurs with the anti-Berlusconi vote of liberal professions, but the PD won 35.3% with the former category and 30.1% with the latter (vs. 25.6%/31.2% for the M5S and 14.2%/17.8% for FI respectively), confirming a major swing to the Renzi-led PD with self-employed workers and entrepreneurs. According to Ipsos’ more detailed socioprofessional breakdown, the PD did best with pensioners (50.5%), employees/teachers (43.1%), students (41.1%), housewives (38.5%) and workers (35.8%) – more broadly, with public sector dependent employees (42.8%). The M5S did best with the unemployed (32.7% – first ahead of the PD) and workers (30.5%) but very poorly with housewives (15.4%) and pensioners (7.4%). FI did best with housewives (24.3%), the unemployed (20.1%), pensioners (20%) and self-employed traders and small businessmen (17.8%). The Lega Nord, at 8.2%, also did best with self-employed traders and small businessmen, and also performed well with workers (7.1%) and pensioners (6.9%). The NCD-UDC did best with entrepreneurs, managers and liberal professions (6.1%) and students (6%). The Tsipras list won 8% with students and 5.7% with employees and teachers, doing strikingly better with public sector workers than private sector workers (7.1% vs. 3.5%).

There is, as you may have guessed from Grillo’s comments about retirees not voting for their ‘grandchildren’s future’, a huge generational gap in the M5S’ support – nothing surprising for a new and flashy party – the party’s support is highest with younger voters (according to EMG, 32.5% with those 18-34) – or, for Ipsos, particularly middle-aged adults (33.5% with 33-44, 26.6% with those 45-54) – but, at any rate, the M5S’ support with older voters is extremely weak: Ipsos reports only 17.4% for Grillo with those 55 to 64 and 6.4% with those over 65, a result corroborated by EMG and Tecnè. In 2013, according to the CISE, the M5S’ support dropped from 38.4% with the youngest cohort (18-29) to 8.8% with the oldest (65+), a 29.6% gap compared to 12.7% for the PD and 18.5% for the PdL. Again in 2014, the PD and FI’s support both increased with the age of the voter – peaking at 50.2% for the PD and 22.1% for FI with voters over 65. The PD’s age gap is not as wide, because it still retains solid support with younger voters (32.9% with those 18-29 according to EMG, compared to 11.4% for FI), but both it and FI had about half of their 2014 electorate made up of voters older than 55 (compared to only 20% for the M5S). On the left, the Tsipras’ list support was much stronger with younger voters – up to 7.6% with those 18-24, attracting a crowd of well-educated young professionals and especially students (up to 8-9% with students).

The M5S did well with fairly educated voters – only 11% with those without any diploma or only elementary education (but I suppose this educational group is disproportionately old) – although with those who have a high school diploma or middle school education (27.4% and 20.5% respectively in Ipsos) and not with university graduates (17.8%). The PD did best both with university graduates (as did Tsipras) and those with no education (unlike the Tsipras list, but like FI); FI’s support decreased with higher educational achievement.

Ipsos’ exit poll also included interesting data on the ‘media gap’, religiosity and ideology. Unsurprisingly, the M5S did best – by far – with voters who inform themselves mostly through the internet, winning 38.7% against 28.8% for the PD, while M5S support was below national average for all other media sources, although in terms of makeup of its voters, 32% informed themselves mostly through TV (and 31% through the internet, obviously far more than the 15% of all voters who get most of their news online). Unsurprisingly, FI did best – 22% – with voters who inform themselves solely through TV, while PD voters are more likely to read newspapers or inform themselves mostly through TV. Religiosity continues to impact vote choice, although not where one may expect it: the M5S and Tsipras list did significantly better with non-religious voters or lapsed Catholics (27.7% M5S support with those who never attend mass, and they make up a third of the party’s electorate; half of the Tsipras list’s voters never attend mass) while the NCD-UDC’s support was heavily biased towards the most religious voters – half of its voters attend mass weekly. The PD showed no correlation with religiosity, and actually scored major gains since 2009/2013 with weekly mass-goers, winning 43.3% of their votes. Berlusconi’s support with the most religious Catholics has declined significantly from 2009, but he remains strongest with monthly mass-goers (22.9%) and weakest with irreligious voters.

The ideological self-identification of voters offers an interesting portrait of the M5S electorate. While the PD, FI, Lega, NCD-UDC, Tsipras and FdI voters identify neatly with their ideological families – half of the PD and FI’s voters identify as centre-left and centre-right respectively and most of the remainder as left or right – the M5S’ electorate draws from all ideologies. 20% of the M5S’ voters identify as left-wing, but 15% identify as right-wing; overall, 38% identify with the left/centre-left and 32% with the right/centre-right. Compared to all other parties, however, a very large proportion of the M5S’ supporters do not identify with any ideology (they make up 17% of its electorate and the M5S won 53.5% with these voters). Unsurprisingly, Grillo has picked up voters across the spectrum, combining voters who identify with both extreme ends of the ideological spectrum and many voters who do not fit anywhere.

% vote for the PD by comuni (source: YouTrend)

YouTrend has an excellent interactive map of the results. The PD won all but three provinces in the country – FI won the province of Isernia in the southern region of Molise, the Lega Nord was victorious in the Alpine Lombard province of Sondrio while the SVP (allied to the PD) won 48% in South Tyrol (province of Bolzano-Alto Adige/Bozen-Südtirol). The PD did very well in the traditional left-wing zona ‘rossa’ in central Italy, winning 56.4% in Tuscany and 52.5% in Emilia-Romagna. In Matteo Renzi’s home province (and longtime left-wing stronghold) of Florence, the PD won its best national result, 61.8%, up over 17% from the PD’s result in 2013. The M5S’ support was generally similar to its 2013 spread, although it took a much more ‘southern’ orientation in 2014. The Grillists sustained their heaviest loses in central Italy and parts of the north, and help up better in the south – and even improved on the 2013 result by 0.8% in Sardinia (where the PD’s results were mediocre), taking 30.5% on the island (its best national result). In contrast, the M5S won only 16.7% in Tuscany (-7.3%) and 15.7% in Lombardy (-3.9%). Forza Italia also did better in the south and Sicily, although it still won good results in traditionally conservative provinces of the Piedmont and Lombardy. Compared to 2013, the Lega Nord’s biggest rebound came from the Veneto, where the Lega won its best national result (15.2%, compared to 14.6% in Lombardy, the Lega’s other major northern base) – up 4.7% from the 2013 election. Many noted that, in the Veneto region and notably the province of Verona, where the Lega received its third-best result (19.6%), top candidate Matteo Salvini was outpolled by Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona and leader of the Liga Veneta. Tosi is a more traditional conservative (keener on the free market and not anti-Euro), who had opposed Umberto Bossi but now seems to be taking his distance from Salvini’s anti-Euro line and alliance with Le Pen. The NCD-UDC list did best in the south – taking 6.6% in the Southern Italy constituency and 7.5% in the Insular constituency, compared to about 3% in the north of the country. The Christian democratic tradition remains strongest in the south, where old clientelistic political traditions remain strongest – although the leadership of both the NCD and UDC, drawn from the old DC, are largely southern (Alfano is Sicilian – the list won 9.1%, its second best result, in Sicily). Tsipras’ support was far less reflective of old Communist support and was instead largely urban (particularly urban areas with a university) – its best provinces (except for South Tyrol, where it was backed by the local Greens, and the Francophone Aosta Valley where no local list ran in 2014) were Florence (6.5%), Bologna (6%), Livorno (6%) and Trieste (5.9%). It also performed above its national result in Milan, Rome, Turin and Pisa. Finally, FdI’s support was strongest in the Lazio (5.6%), a traditional base of the neo-fascist or post-fascist right.

Regional and local elections

Regional and local elections were held alongside the EP elections.

In Piedmont, an early regional election followed the cancellation of the 2010 regional elections by the regional court on account of irregularities (falsification) in signatures for a small list allied with the right. The president of the region, Roberto Cota (Lega Nord), had already been placed under investigation and later indicted (in January 2014) for embezzlement, fraud and illegal financing. He is notably accused of using his expenses to pay for items including green underpants and sex toys. The region, traditionally the major swing region between left and right in northern Italy, had been gained by Cota – backed by Berlusconi’s PdL and the Lega – in 2010, notably due to an early M5S winning 4.1% and allegedly ‘spoiling’ the election for the centre-left incumbent. Piedmont has long been one of Italy’s major industrial heartlands, notably around the regional capital of Turin but also in other towns across the country. Historically, the PCI had strong support with working-class voters in Turin’s suburbs (which welcomed a large population of immigrants from southern Italy) and other industrial centres (Alessandria, Novi Ligure, Vercelli); today, the left has been weakened outside of Turin, but retains strong support in the province of Turin itself. The M5S has been very strong in the Val di Susa region in the province of Turin since 2010, due to its identification with and support of the very strong local movement against the Turin-Lyon high-speed train (TAV).

The left’s candidate was Sergio Chiamparino, the former PD mayor of Turin (2001-2011), supported by the PD, SEL, a civic list, a local centrist party (Moderati), SC and IdV. Roberto Cota did not run, and the right’s candidate was Gilberto Pichetto, a former regional vicepresident and senator from Forza Italia, supported by FI, the Lega and small parties. Davide Bono, an incumbent M5S regional councillor who had already won 4.1% in 2010, ran for the M5S. There were also FdI and NCD-UDC candidates.

Sergio Chiamparino (Centre-left/PD) 47.09% winning 32 seats (10 president’s list, 17 PD, 2 civic list, 1 Moderati, 1 SEL, 1 SC)
Gilberto Pichetto (Centre-right/FI) 22.09% winning 9 seats (6 FI, 2 Lega Nord, 1 president’s list)
Davide Bono (M5S) 21.45% winning 8 seats
Guido Crosetto (FdI-AN) 3.73% winning 1 seat
Enrico Costa (NCD-UDC) 2.98%
Mauro Filingeri (PRC) 1.12%

In the list vote for the regional council, the Lega Nord’s support fell from a strong 16.7% in 2010 to 7.3%. The FI’s result was about 10% lower than the PdL’s 2010 showing, while the PD’s list (36.2%) gained 13% from 2010. Detailed interactive maps are available here.

Abruzzo is a largely mountainous or hilly southern region, traditionally right-leaning, which has become the most affluent region in southern Italy. The right had gained the region from the left in a narrow battle in 2008, an early election which had followed the arrest of the incumbent centre-left president, who had himself gained the region from the right in 2005. The incumbent president, Giovanni Chiodi of Forza Italia, has also been mixed up in corruption scandals. The left’s candidate was Luciano D’Alfonso, a former Christian democratic mayor of Pescara.

Luciano D’Alfonso (Centre-left/PD) 46.26% winning 18 seats (10 PD, 4 civic lists, 1 CD, 1 SEL, 1 IdV, 1 president’s list)
Giovanni Chiodi (Centre-right/FI) 29.26% winning 7 seats (4 FI, 1 NCD-UDC, 1 civic list, 1 president’s list)
Sara Marcozzi (M5S) 21.41% winning 5 seats
Maurizio Acerbo (PRC) 3.07%

The right’s defeats in Piedmont and Abruzzo, along with a (narrow) defeat earlier this year in Sardinia, means that the Italian right only holds the regions of Lombardy, Veneto (both with the Lega Nord), Campania (with FI) and Calabria (with the NCD). The Aosta Valley is led by a local centre-right coalition, excluding the Italian right, because Aostan politics operate in their own cocoon. Since the last regular regional elections in 2010, the left has gained no less than seven regions from the right in early or regularly-scheduled regional elections.

Municipal elections were held alongside the EP elections on May 25, with a runoff on June 8. According to La Repubblica, the centre-left won 164 out of the 243 largest communes which held local elections, against 41 for the centre-right and 24 for civic lists. The M5S won three communes. In terms of provincial capitals, the PD gained 11 and lost 6.

The left gained Pescara (Abruzzo), Bergamo (Lombardy), Cremona (Lombardy), Pavia (Lombardy), Campobasso (Molise), Biella (Piedmont), Verbania (Piedmont), Vercelli (Piedmont), Sassari (Sardinia), Caltanissetta (Sicily) and Prato (Tuscany). The right gained Potenza (Basilicata), Urbino (Marche), Foggia (Apulia), Perugia (Umbria) and Padua (Veneto). The M5S gained Livorno (Tuscany). The left’s defeat in several cities, after its landslide in the EP elections, somewhat mitigated the talk about the PD landslide, and may confirm the theory that the PD’s victory held quasi-exclusively to Renzi and that in a runoff ballot without any Renzi effect, the PD’s performance was far less impressive. Nevertheless, the PD still gained several cities – including large ones such as Bergamo and Pavia – and easily held others such as Florence (with 59.2% in the first round).

Two of the most striking defeats for the left came from Livorno and Padua. Livorno, a major working-class industrial and harbour city in Tuscany, had been governed by the left (the PCI, historically) since 1946 and it is a left-wing stronghold to this day (in the EP election, the PD won 52.7% vs 22.5% for the M5S), with a strong base for the radical left as well. The incumbent PD mayor was retiring this year. In the first round, the M5S candidate placed a distant second with 19% against the centre-left’s 40% and 16.4% for a radical left candidate. In the second round, the M5S candidate won 53.1% against 46.9% for the PD. Between both rounds, turnout dropped from 64.6% to 50.5%, and the PD was particularly hit by demobilization from the EP election (the PD candidate’s raw vote declined from the first round), but the M5S candidate likely won the votes of those who had backed the radical left and maybe the weak centre-right (7.3%) in the first round. In the M5S’ other municipal victories, they have usually come after weak distant second showings in the first round, through the mobilization of all voters who had backed other eliminated candidates in the first round – left or right. For example, in the port city of Civitavecchia (Lazio) – an old PCI stronghold which has drifted right since 1994, where the M5S defeated the centre-left incumbent, the M5S polled 18.3% in the first round to the left’s 26.6% and won 66.6% in the runoff thanks to low turnout (from 72.7% to 52.7%) and support from eliminated centre-right candidates (18.2% and 12.2% in the first round) and the radical left (10.9%).

The left suffered a bad defeat in Perugia (Umbria), where the right overcame a 20-point gap in the second round to win 58%, although turnout fell by 20%. In the southern city of Potenza, an FdI candidate backed only by Mario Mauro’s small Populars, gained the city with 58.5% in a runoff against the left, which had polled 47.8% in the first round against only 16.8% for the FdI (the centre-right and centre won the bulk of the remaining votes). Turnout collapsed from 75.1% to 48.4%.

In Padua, the third largest city in the Veneto, Lega Nord senator Massimo Bitonci, supported by FI and the centre-right, defeated the PD incumbent with 53.5%, with turnout 10 points lower than on May 25. It is interesting to point out that, in the election for city council, the Lega did poorly with only 4.9% (down from 11% in 2009), while the top scoring list on the right was a civic list with 16.7%. On the other hand, the PD did quite well in northern Italy (especially Lombardy). Its most notable victory was in Pavia (Lombardy), where the centre-left candidate defeated FI incumbent Alessandro Cattaneo, a young ambitious politician sometimes described as the centre-right’s Renzi. With turnout nearly 15 points lower, the left overcame a 10-point gap in the first round to win with 53.1% (the right’s support, in terms of vote, fell from the first round).

Although I speculated about a potential ‘Renzi effect’ in the first round and its drop-off in the second round, preliminary research suggests that it may have been the municipal elections which had the greater impact on the EP election than the other way around. A CISE study reports that turnout on May 25 declined by 23.5% from 2013 in communes with no local elections while it fell by just 3.4% in those which did hold municipal elections. The gap in turnout change is greatest in the south, where the difference between the two types of communes is 26.8%, over 10 points more than the region with the second-highest difference. In the south, turnout in local elections was even higher than in the 2013 election!). Additionally, while the PD performed better by an average of 2.5% in communes without local elections than those with, Forza Italia’s support declined less (-3.3%) from 2013 in towns with local elections than those without (where it was about -4.5% lower than in 2013).

The EP elections saw a rather phenomenal showing for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s centre-left PD, a vote of cautious optimism and confidence in his new government which has gotten off to a solid and energetic start – but also a vote which is more reflective of the pitiful state of the PD’s opponents. The result is quite significant – more significant than a low-turnout EP election would normally be – because it is effectively a popular mandate, indirectly, for a Prime Minister who won that office through backroom wheeling-and-dealing rather than through the polls. That unexpected popular mandate has left the PD’s opponents, particularly Beppe Grillo, quite confused. In polls taken since the EP elections, the PD has suddenly surged into a significant lead over the right and Grillists, averaging about 40-42% against 19-21% for the M5S, 15-16% for Forza Italia and 6-7% for the Lega Nord. Somewhat ironically, the PD’s landslide makes a snap election less likely, because the opposition and the PD’s junior allies have no interest in an election now. It is now a fairly serious possibility that the Parliament elected in 2013, widely seen as an unworkable mess which wouldn’t last two years, may actually serve its full term to 2018. However, Italian politics remain in a fascinating state of flux – nothing here indicates that the PD’s current success will endure for a long time, and nothing indicates that Italian politics are anywhere close to stabilizing at some level.

Guest Post: Great Britain 2014

ep2014

Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the recent local and European elections in Great Britain. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held local elections on the 22nd of May. As Northern Ireland has an entirely separate party and electoral system, it shall be dealt with separately.

Political Context

Since 2010 the UK has been ruled by its first coalition government since the end of World War II between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

The 2010 election put an end to thirteen years of Labour governance following the landslide of 1997. Thirteen years in government had taken their toll on the party, as had the financial crisis and strategic mistakes by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had taken over from Tony Blair in 2007.

However, the Conservative Party suffered from image as an out of touch party for the rich which did not understand the lives of ordinary Britons and toxicity amongst multiple demographics including ethnic minorities, public sector workers, the Scottish and the young. The party also suffered from the cruel effects of Britain’s First Past the Post system due to its highly inefficient vote spread.

The election had been seemingly blown open by the performance of the unknown leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, in the first Prime Ministerial debate in UK history. This unleashed ‘Cleggmania’ as the Lib Dems climbed to first in some polls. In reality Cleggmania was overblown and overstated, and mostly based on a large pool of don’t knows drifting into being very soft Lib Dems in polls. It began to dissipate by polling day and though the Lib Dems achieved 23.0% a vote, their best popular vote since 1983, they lost six seats.

The Conservatives gained almost 100 seats, but their 306 left them sort of the 326 needed for a majority in the UK. Britain was thus treated to the sight of coalition negotiations. While most of Britain’s European cousins view this as a norm post-election, this was entirely new to the British and journalists, politicians and academics rushed around trying to explain the phenomenon.

The final deal saw Clegg become Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition led by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron, an Eton educated former PR man and Treasury special adviser with aristocratic connections who many Brits view as the very personification of the British elite.

The new government had to deal with a yawning budget deficit of more than 10% of GDP, though Britain did not face the same problems as other Western nations regarding its ability to pay its debts. Nonetheless the government implemented an austerity agenda.

This pushed the Liberal Democrats into agreeing to some policies which they had specifically campaigned against in the 2010 election. Most infamously the party agreed to the trebling of the cap for university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year (the system acts something like a tax, however, with no payback before you earn above £21,000 pa, very low interest rates and debts written off 30 years after they are taken out if not fully repaid). Abolition of university tuition fees had long been one of the Lib Dems’ most recognisable policies, and the party’s MPs and candidates had signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to vote against any rise in tuition fees.

During Labour’s years in opposition the Lib Dems had cultivated a young, academic, left-liberal  base based on their opposition to the war in Iraq and left-leaning policies under Charles Kennedy. While Clegg had always intended to take the party to the centre, the party retained a strong left-leaning vote which had, in many cases, rejected Labour on the basis of insufficient leftism. To such voters, the party’s coalition with the Conservatives was anathema.

The party also found its traditional campaign strategy somewhat blunted. Since the 1960s move to ‘community politics’ the Lib Dems have focused on a localist form of politics, with individual Lib Dem MPs pointing left or right depending on the constituency and adopting strongly localist campaigns. The Lib Dem mantra ‘where we work we win’ attests to a traditional belief in the party that there is no obstacle which can stop a determined local party as long as it pounds the pavements, leaflets relentlessly and provides excellent constituency service. Yet the party’s national exposure in government gave it a national profile and not a positive one, with Clegg moving from the most popular politician in the country to the least in less than a month.

The Lib Dems have been devastated in successive waves of poor election results, though the signs are that the party performs much better in areas where they have incumbent MPs, where the party’s traditional strengths of solid constituency representatives work in their favour.

Labour followed the election with a leadership race, which pitted two former ministers and brothers, David Miliband, the former foreign minister, and Ed Miliband, the former Energy and Climate Change minister against one another. The fight took on extra potency as David had been a key aide and ally of Tony Blair, and Ed had been one of a pair of Gordon Brown’s most trusted advisors with Ed Balls, another prominent minister. Hence the two had been on opposite sides in the often extremely volatile relationship between the two former Prime Ministers.

To the surprise of many, Ed narrowly won the leadership race albeit on the votes of the trade union section of Labour’s complex leadership election electoral college (with David winning MPs and party members).

Ed represented a clearer break with the past, wanting to take the party in a more clearly left-leaning direction. He almost immediately apologised for the Iraq War, for instance. The Conservatives quickly attempted to brand Ed as ‘Red Ed’. However research found that voters found Miliband not to be so much a scary 1970s socialist, as the Conservatives had hoped, but just rather ‘weird’, due to poor presentation on his part.

Ed, is the son of a famed Marxist academic, Ralph Miliband, and who therefore, grew up in a home which was at the very nexus of the British intellectual leftist elite, with frequent visitors such as the academic Tariq Aziz and the famed radical left Labour MP Tony Benn (who sadly passed away earlier this year). He took a sabbatical from politics to teach at Harvard in the early 2000s. He thus affects an academic, some critics say ‘geeky’ persona. He is unusually interested in ideas for a modern day politician, and is known for his series of ‘gurus’, often academics such as the American philosopher Michael Sandel, or the sociologist Maurice Glasman.

Miliband’s instincts tend towards a metropolitan kind of leftism, but he has also taken on some of the issues of Glasman’s ‘Blue Labour’ ideas which posits a more socially conservative Labourism which rejects the managerialism of traditional British Fabian socialism. Blue Labour embraces a more conservative stance on immigration, crime and Europe, but prefers a more continental style of corporatist economics to markets. It is localist and vaguely anti-statist.

Realising that his party would be forced into austerity measures in government, Miliband has come to embrace more state interference in markets, with policies such as the introduction of rent controls and a forced price freeze on energy prices to undercut what Miliband consistently refers to as a ‘cost of living crisis’.

Conditions since 2010 have provided perfect ground for the unleashing of a quietly rising tendency in Britain – right-wing populism. Right-wing populism and anti-immigration politics has been present in the UK for a while, but has been divided between multiple parties, predominantly the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the far-right British National Party (BNP). In many constituencies in 2010, especially in the North, these two parties and other minor right-of-conservative parties together won over 10% of the vote. This was largely unnoticed because it was split between multiple parties. After 2010 the BNP went into meltdown. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, specifically targeted them by his own admission, saying that most BNP voters are decent people simply angry about immigration. He even claimed responsibility for destroying the party.

The party has traditionally performed best in European elections. The political scientists Rob Ford and Matthew Elliott have compared UKIP’s previous pattern to being like a hibernating bear which emerged from its cave once every five years for European elections, would frighten the villages and then retire to its cave to sleep. As an illustration the party came second in the 2009 European election with 16.5% of the vote. It then fell to 3.1% in 2010 as it won strategic defectors from the main parties who opposed the EU. UKIP now polls between 10% and 20% of the vote in general election voting intention. The party has also won a string of second place finishes in by-elections, most notably in Eastleigh last year, and won an incredible victory in the 2013 local elections.

UKIP also benefitted from the coalition. Britain’s three main parties have now all been in power in the last five years. None thus provides a clear oppositional role. The Conservative Party has been unable to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands as they promised a goal which always lacked credibility. In order to reduce immigration the Conservatives, unable to deal with ‘bad’ immigration, have restricted immigration which most Brits think is ‘good’ such as student visas.

The Lib Dems’ traditional role as a protest vote was also lost as the party entered government.

An additional boon to UKIP is that all three party leaders are from different wings of the British elite. Cameron originates in the traditional, aristocratic, upper class elite. Miliband originates in the academic, intellectual, left-wing elite. Clegg’s ancestry lies in the European aristocracy. A speaker of five languages he is a former MEP, and a former advisor to the ex-European Commissioner Leon Brittan. Clegg is thus of the Eurocrat elite.  All three are around the same age (Cameron and Clegg are 47, Miliband is 44). Both Clegg and Cameron were privately educated, while Miliband went to a state school, it is known as the ‘Eton of the left’ due to the large number of prominent left-wingers educated there. Miliband and Cameron both went to Oxford University, and studied PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). Clegg went to Cambridge. All three later worked as political advisors and critics allege they have never had a ‘real job’. In this respect all three have lived elite lives out of step with the lives of average Britons, leading to the impression of a ‘political class’ dominated by an increasingly narrow group of identikit politicians.

The famed UK expenses scandal of 2008-9 has also damaged the reputation of British politicians, and the public increasingly distrusts politicians on the issue of immigration.

Farage is part of the elite as well, a privately educated former metals trader from the London financial centre who has served as a MEP since 1999. Yet he successfully affects an authentic style, almost always being filmed drinking real ale in pubs up and down the land, or smoking a cigar, he dresses in a colourful, rural style, appears to speak his mind and goes on tirades against the political class. Under his leadership UKIP’s traditional Euroscepticism has been expanded. In particular the party has increasingly conflated the EU and immigration, stoking fears of renewed immigration from Bulgaria and Romania when the need for Bulgarians and Romanians to get work permits to work in the UK was lifted at the start of 2014 (initial figures suggest that the number of both groups working in the country has actually fallen since the 1st of January).

Britain has a long tradition of Euroscepticism, but for UKIP’s voters the EU has come to represent everything they hate about politics: an out-of-touch bureaucratic, dull elite (in a foreign country no less!) forcing open borders onto Britain.

Analysis of UKIP’s support base suggests it is composed overwhelmingly of older, poorly educated, male working class voters. These voters are deeply pessimistic about the direction Britain has been going in for decades. While Westminster journalists have often stereotyped UKIP as simply taking support from the Conservatives, the party takes around the same amount of support from Labour. The party is increasingly target traditional Labour party supporters. The recent book Revolt on the Right provides fascinating reading for anyone interested in UKIP’s rise.

UKIP’s support is predominantly English, and it is much weaker in Scotland, though it has some strength in Wales, especially in the North.

Like other right-wing populist parties, UKIP has had its fair share of controversy. A UKIP councillor received national attention and widespread mockery earlier this year when he claimed that flooding in the South West of England was the result of the legalisation of gay marriage. UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was forced to resign from the party after he drew attention away from Farage at the party’s 2013 conference for suggesting that women who did not clean behind the fridge were “sluts”, and then, as a journalist who questioned why UKIP’s conference brochure did not feature a single ethnic minority face, hitting said journalist over the head with a copy of said brochure.

Farage himself has received criticism, for instance, for saying that he felt uncomfortable when people spoke languages other than English on trains, or by saying he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians moved next door to him.

Scotland has seen the rise of a different type of populist outsider, as the Scottish parliament saw the Scottish National Party win a majority in 2011, which wasn’t supposed to be possible. The UK and Scottish governments have agreed to a binding referendum on Scottish independence to be held on the 19th of September. The SNP has a strong base in Scotland, and has appeared to be newly dominant in Scotland since 2011 due to a perennially weak and incompetent Scottish Labour Party.

Other parties of note are Plaid Cymru, the much weaker Welsh nationalist party, and the Greens, who in Britain are of a rather eco-socialist variety. They hold only one MP at Westminster, in the radical left wing seaside city of Brighton, known for its gay community and liberalism, but have strength in some regions of the country and do well in PR elections.

The Structure of British local government

British local government has a complex structure which differs widely between different regions due to both repeated reform attempts from central government and different histories.

The UK has a highly centralised political system and is often described as one of the most centralised countries in the world. Most of the local councils’ money has traditionally come from central government grants. The only tax that local government can levy in the UK is council tax, a property tax based on house prices, which is widely disliked as it is the only tax that comes in the form of a bill, and is perceived as regressive, hitting poor pensioners the hardest. Many would like to see a more devolved tax system, but Britain suffers from yawning regional disparities in wealth and hence a more localised tax system would tend to result in essentially taking money from poorer regions without a system of equalisation payments.

British local government has often been treated as little more than a delivery mechanism for central government policies. In the Labour years, when money was good, there was a tendency to create extra funds of central government money for local government but to ruthlessly ‘ring-fence’ it (make sure that the money could only be spent on that one area). The coalition substantially reduced ring-fencing in government and introduced a general power of competence which vastly expanded what councils could theoretically do but also substantially cut central government funding to councils (which was cut by 30%) meaning that councils could rarely afford to be more than managers of core services. No other government funding has been cut so radically. The Local Government and Communities minister, Eric Pickles, has also been fond of occasional diktat from Whitehall, trying to force local government into keeping weekly waste collections (some had gone to fortnightly as a cost-saving measure) and freezing their council tax rates. Under the coalition’s localism act councils must hold referendums if they raise council tax by more than a certain percentage. In response some councils have instead raised their council tax by 0.01% less than the limit to avoid a referendum. In theory, councils receive extra funds from central government for freezing their council tax but councils fear this money will evaporate with time putting them into further financial strain.

As local government is so anaemic in the UK turnouts have historically been low in UK local elections. Concern has been quite strong about turnout in local elections for a while, but in truth turnouts bottomed out in the period between 1998 and 2002 with a string of sub-30% scores and have now stabilising in the mid-30s. This is low compared to local elections in other countries but historically turnouts were not much higher than this in the 1970s. Turnout is very down when compared to the 1980s, but this was a period of extreme political polarisation in the UK which boosted turnouts and political engagement across the board.

Another aspect for the anaemic quality of local government is that local elections are most often used to comment on the performance of central government rather than to vote on genuinely local issues. Local elections in the UK are rarely truly ‘local’ as a result. In the vast majority of council areas traditional political parties vie for control, though the Liberal Democrats have often pursued a strategy of running much more heavily localised campaigns.

Local elections, as a result, suffer from a notable differential turnout effect whereby supporters of the opposition tend to tend out much more than supporters of the government (as in other mid-term elections internationally such as US mid-terms).

There are different types of councils in different parts of the UK with differing responsibilities and different systems of election.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, councils are single-tier and elected by the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation in all-at-once elections. The Scottish councils were last elected in 2012, whereas the Northern Irish councils are up for election this year (more on this in a forthcoming article).

In Wales, there is also a system of unitary councils elected all at once using a bloc voting system in multi-member wards.

In England the systems become much more complex.

By far and away Britain’s largest city, London is governed by 32 ‘borough councils’. London is a massive international city, with a population of 8.5 million – as much as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland put together. It represents 15% of the UK population. London’s boroughs are technically single-tier but since 2000 they share power with a directly elected Mayor of London, currently the Conservative Boris Johnson, famed for his eccentric, ‘upper class buffoon’ persona.

Nevertheless the vast majority of local services are provided by the boroughs, with the Mayoralty controlling economic structuring, transport and police across London.

The London Boroughs are all elected all-at-once on a four year cycle. The boroughs feature multi-member wards (the constituencies of local government) generally with 3 councillors each (though some 2 member wards have recently appeared).

18% of the population of the UK lives in the Metropolitan counties of the North of England. These six counties, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire are highly urbanised areas and essentially vast urban conurbations around the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Sunderland, Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city and the largest municipality in Europe), and Leeds.

The Mets used to be two-tier authorities, with the Metropolitan counties having their own higher level. This was abolished in the 1980s though there is some joint working at the county level. This collaboration has recently been increased as a way of reducing costs, with the most notable being the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The Mets are elected by a system of election by thirds. All wards in the Metropolitan councils have three councillors. One of these is elected each year to a four year term with one ‘fallow’ year. This system is supposed to provide a regular injection of accountability and new blood, but is increasingly criticised as costly, reducing turnout due to electoral fatigue and causing poor governance as councillors are distracted by elections for multiple months most years.

The most common type of council in the UK is district councils. These are two-layer councils with a county council above them.  District councils handle housing, planning, leisure and recreation, waste collection, collection of council tax and environmental health. County councils handle local education authorities, transport, fire, social services, libraries and waste disposal.

Counties are elected in a four year cycle in the traditional first past the post single-member style. They were last up for election in 2013. Districts are allowed to choose between election by thirds (hence some wards have a local election literally every year as county councils are elected in the ‘fallow’ year), election by halves and election all at once. Most of those elected all at once were last elected in 2011 and will be next up in 2015.

Most of the district councils are rather small and rural.

In recent years there has been an increasing move towards the creation of unitary authorities, merging the responsibilities of districts and counties to reduce duplication and to create clearer lines of accountability. Unitaries come in two types. The first covers large towns or small cities outside the metropolitan areas which have been deemed large enough to support the necessary tax base to support one, such as Plymouth, Bristol, Peterborough or Portsmouth.

The other fashion has been to merge districts in large rural areas into one massive county council with the powers of the district councils in areas where district councils are deemed too small to support themselves. This has happened in areas such as Cornwall, Wiltshire, Northumberland and County Durham. These areas are typically largely rural or covered by small towns.

Most councils in Britain are governed by a fairly typical cabinet model, but since 2000 councils may introduce a directly-elected mayor with wide-ranging executive powers, usually this is done by referendum. Only fifteen councils have introduced the elected mayor model, four of which are London boroughs, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. A fifth elected mayor, in Watford, was up for election this year as well. Elected mayors are elected using a preferential system known as the Supplementary Vote system. SV features ballots laid out like a traditional British ballot paper except with a second column for a second preference. Voters may thus cast two preferences. A mayoral candidate who wins 50%+1 in the first round is deemed elected, if this does not happen then all but the top two are eliminated and second preferences redistributed. The plurality winner then wins. The system thus guarantees a wider mandate than First Past the Post but does not guarantee a majority as in AV or a two round system. SV means that voters must strategically vote for one of the top two candidates with their second vote. There is evidence that voters do not properly understand the system, with a significant minority of voters casting two preferences for one candidate (which obviously cannot transfer).

However, elected mayors themselves are widely seen as a success, improving governance, transparency and visibility for their communities. Polling suggests that 50% of the public in councils with an elected mayor can name their mayor, whereas only 10% of the public in councils with the usual model can name their council leader. Central government has often tried to push the elected mayoral model, especially in councils seen as poorly run and in big cities. Local government has often pushed back against the model, however. Councillors often fear losing power to elected mayors.  In 2012 the government held referendums on elected mayors in the 10 biggest cities in England outside London. In Liverpool and Salford the referendums were, in essence, pre-empted, but of the remaining 8 cities only Bristol chose the mayoral model.

Prior local elections held alongside EP elections have shown a noticeably stronger result for UKIP.

The seats up this year were last up in 2010 and held alongside the general election. This means that they represent the last set of good results for the Lib Dems since before coalition, but also that Labour performed well in 2010 due to the high turnout.

European Parliament Elections in the UK

Since 1999, European parliament elections in Great Britain take place in the framework of a closed-list proportional representation. Britain elects 70 MEPs (3 more are elected in Northern Ireland) in regions, with one region representing Scotland and one Wales, and England split into the nine regions of East of England, East Midlands London, North East England, North West England, South East England, South West England, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The regions range from 3 seats (North East England) to 10 seats (South East England) in size creating effective thresholds between 7% and 20%. This makes the UK system fairly disproportionate, but it does also mean that the SNP and Plaid can win seats in their regions which a single constituency with a national threshold would stop (neither party would be capable of winning more than 3% nationally).

The PR system has allowed for the entry of smaller parties into the European Parliament, most notably UKIP, but the Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the far-right BNP also won seats in 2009.

Eurosceptic parties tend to perform better in EP elections. The prior success of UKIP in these elections is especially notable but the Conservatives also tend to perform better than in European elections on the same day.

The Campaign

The campaign was predominantly notable for an attempt by the Liberal Democrats and UKIP to polarise the election for their own interests.

In March Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to a televised debate about whether to stay in or get out of the European Union, an eternal British political debate which practically predates UK accession itself. Clegg’s challenge was issued on his LBC radio show. By sheer coincidence, Nigel Farage decided to accept his challenge the next day, on his LBC radio show. It may not surprise readers to learn that one of the debates was hosted by LBC.

Both leaders sought to portray the other parties as scared of participating in a debate on this subject. Clegg sought to portray the Conservatives as taking a confused position on Europe (the Conservatives, who have a softly Eurosceptic stance re pledged to support a referendum on the EU in 2017 if they are re-elected), and to portray Labour as having no position at all (Labour’s campaign was noticeably silent on EU issues). Farage merely hoped to present all three leaders as in hoc to an EU elite which ‘truly’ made the laws in the UK.

The first debate was widely seen as a victory for Clegg by the press, until the instant polls came out and revealed that voters saw Farage as the winner, a reminder of just how unpopular Clegg was (and some might argue, how out of touch London-based journalists are with the population at large).

Clegg was also deemed to have lost the second debate, by a more convincing margin. Clegg’s hope had not been, in truth, to convince a majority of the British public of his view, however. While a majority of Brits are Eurosceptic, the Lib Dems’ potential vote is highly Europhile and he hoped to galvanise this support. There was also a sense that with the party in for a poor result that Clegg was attempting to demonstrate that the party at least lost by standing up for what it believes in.

In the end the effect of the debates on the polls seemed to be to help UKIP while the Lib Dems did not move.

Labour fought a campaign entirely on national issues. Using the campaign to mercilessly attack Nick Clegg, hoping to lock down the defectors from the Lib Dem left it has won since 2010 and to gain further votes from 2010 Lib Dems who are now ‘Don’t Knows’, which represents as much as a third of their 2010 vote.

One of their party election broadcasts was named the ‘uncredible shrinking man’ and portrayed Nick Clegg giving up all his policies in government before literally shrinking in size until he reaches the point that a tiny naked Nick Clegg is chased across the cabinet table by the Downing Street cat.

Labour knew that much of its base was in both the Eurosceptic and Europhile camps and so avoided talking about Europe for this reason.

Labour hoped to win the election through a low profile campaign focused on winning through the momentum of being in opposition.

The Conservative campaign predominantly focused on its European referendum pledge and on its promise of EU renegotiation. The Conservative campaign claimed that UKIP “can’t” give you a referendum, that Labour and the Lib Dems “won’t” give you a referendum and only the Conservatives could.

The Scottish National Party focused on Scotland’s current obsession, the Independence referendum, hoping to use evidence of a strong result as a way to parle into the referendum. The SNP party election broadcast was entirely focused on the independence referendum.

The Greens were perhaps the only party to run a campaign based upon what they’d actually done in the European Parliament, with a well-crafted party election broadcast. The party complained of poor media attention compared to UKIP.

Polls generally showed a tight battle between Labour and UKIP for first place, with UKIP gaining throughout the campaign, opening up a wide lead over Labour. The party then fell back at the last minute, but remained ahead in polling intention. Polls showed that UKIP voters were, ironically, the most interested and engaged in the European election campaign.

Most polls showed the Conservatives in third, and the Lib Dems and Greens battling for fourth place.

Local Election Results and Analysis

Note: Vote share in the below is ‘Projected National Vote’. Due to the fragmented nature of UK electoral administration, and the variances in electoral system, it is impossible to get a total vote count for the UK on Election Day and this measure is based on sampling key indicator wards across the country to produce a figure of what the popular vote would have been if every single part of the country was voting at the same time.

The measure is obviously not perfect. I am cynical that it deals well with the rise of UKIP as it has nothing to compare against from previous results. Hence take the below figures with a pinch of salt.

Projected national vote share compared against 2013. Seat change compared against the last time this swathe of seats was up: in 2010. Councils are change in control from the day.

Labour 31% (+2%) winning 2121 councillors (+324), and winning control of 82 councils (+6)
Conservatives 29% (+4%) winning 1364 councillors (-236) and winning control of 41 councils (-11)
Liberal Democrats 13% (-1%) winning 427 councillors (-310) and winning control of 6 councils (-2)
UK Independence Party 17% (-5%) winning 166 councillors (+163)
Independents winning 89 seats (+36)
Residents Associations (local alliances of independents similar to the Free Voters in Germany) winning 53 seats  (+14)
Green Party winning 38 seats (+18)
Other parties winning 4 seats (-7)
32 councils (+8) now under No Overall Control.

This is a remarkable election result for UKIP, who, for the second year in a row, have made significant gains in the local elections. While the party’s PNV is down from 2013, I am cynical of PNV’s capability to properly measure UKIP as there is no previous record to go on with its support in local elections. This is also a very different set of councils to 2013. 2013 saw elections principally in the County Councils covering rural and small town England. 2014 sees elections predominantly in London and the metropolitan authorities of the North. In that regard UKIP’s success is all the more impressive.

Post-election council control in local authorities with elections in 2014 (source: Wikipedia)

UKIP won a decent number of seats for its strong popular vote, albeit not as many as other parties. UKIP suffers from a highly inefficient voter spread, spread across the country. Its principal demographics of the elderly, the working classes and the low educated rarely cluster together in a way which makes it the largest party, making the UK’s plurality voting systems a significant barrier to its electoral success.

Opponents of UKIP have pointed out that UKIP still does not control a single council. Yet due to the elections by thirds system used in almost every council outside London it is literally impossible to take control of councils. If a party wins every seat up in a council elected by thirds it will only control one third of seats on that council.

UKIP did, however, win the most seats and votes in Great Yarmouth, Thurrock and North East Lincolnshire. These are all depressed areas on the Eastern coast of England, which have recently experienced their first ever waves of immigration. They are white, working class and relatively elderly places. In winning these areas UKIP threw them into No Overall Control. Local politics is likely to be difficult in these areas – largely split between Labour, Conservatives and UKIP. These areas will undoubtedly form key UKIP target seats in 2015.

UKIP also won the most votes (but not the most seats) in Rotherham, an area of South Yorkshire which has been one of the most punished cities by the financial crisis and has one of the worst economies in the UK. UKIP performed well in a by-election there in 2012, winning what was then a record of 21.7% of the vote, due to a scandal hit Labour MP and another scandal regarding social workers removing three non-white children from the care of their foster parents on the basis that they were UKIP members and therefore they had ‘concerns’ about their views.

The party also won the popular vote in Dudley, a suburb of Birmingham.

The party did very well in Essex, the county directly East of London, long associated with the white working class. The party managed to surpass Labour on Basildon council, and now controls 12 seats to 17 for the Conservatives and 10 to Labour. The party took 5 seats from the Conservatives on Castle Point council, and is now looking to form a coalition with Castle Point’s only other party – the Canvey Island Independents Party. The party also threw Southend-on-Sea into NOC, taking 5 seats (though Labour also gained 3 to go to 9 and there is a big Independent group).

Essex is traditionally a very socially conservative white-working-class-done-good area, and ‘Essex Man’ was considered the key component of Margaret Thatcher’s winning coalition. Yet in areas like Rotherham and North East Lincolnshire, it demonstrated a capability to win in core Labour areas.

The exception to the UKIP surge was most noticeably London.

UKIP won 12 councillors in all of London in three boroughs, Bexley, Bromley and Havering. All three of these councils are located in the Eastern outskirts of the city. Bexley and Havering were formerly part of Essex, and Bromley was part of Kent. Havering, where UKIP won 7 seats, is often said to be ‘culturally Essex’, a predominantly white, upper working class area.

By contrast, Labour won its best successes in London. Probably its most vaunted success was taking Hammersmith and Fulham from the Tories. H&F has been nicknamed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and was seen as an austerity success story. It actively cut council tax, when most councils suffered serious budgetary pressures. Yet controversy over a local hospital closure, and local concerns over housing seriously hurt the Conservatives. H&F has historically been viewed as a strongly Conservative area, Fulham, in particularly, is identified with wealthy Conservatives and the borough is in London’s more affluent West. Labour also took control of the South London borough of Croydon from the Conservatives. While the party controlled Croydon between 1994 and 2006 this was actually because of the inequities of plurality voting. 2014 represents the first time Labour has ever won the most votes in Croydon.

Croydon has become more and more ethnically mixed in recent years, aiding Labour’s victory. During the election campaign, UKIP, suffering from accusations of racism, held a carnival in Croydon, hiring a steel drum band. The event was widely seen to be a disaster and ended with Nigel Farage apparently cancelling his planned visit to the carnival as the steel drummers refused to play on realising that it was for UKIP and protesters and UKIP activists hurled abuse at one another. Winston McKenzie, a black UKIP council candidate who attended the event described Croydon as “a dump”.

Labour also took South London’s Merton and North East London’s Redbridge from NOC. This is the first time Labour will have control of Redbridge, which, like Croydon has become more ethnically mixed.

Labour also took back control of Harrow after a damaging internal split which had seen Labour councillors break away and form a coalition with the Conservatives.

Labour narrowly failed to take North West London’s Barnet, where a local programme titled ‘One Barnet’ has run into controversy. One Barnet is an attempt to outsource almost all elements of the council, essentially transforming the council into a commissioner of services rather than a provider of them. Labour won 27 seats to 32 for the Tories and 1 for the Lib Dems.

In its heartlands in London, Labour ran away with the election. Labour once again won every single seat on the East End’s Barking and Dagenham and Newham councils.

In the North West councils of Islington and Haringey the party has long been opposed by the Lib Dems with hardly a Conservative to be seen.  This was, in a sense, a battle of two lefts. Labour representing the working class and ethnic minorities and Lib Dems representing the left-liberal bohemian public sector professionals, academics, journalists and media types that live in that region of London. The Lib Dems had controlled Islington between 1998 and 2006 and ran a minority administration until 2010. The Lib Dems have now been totally wiped out on Islington council. Labour’s sole opposition will be a single Green Party councillor.

The Liberal Democrats managed to retain 9 seats on Haringey council however. Haringey has something of a reputation as a poorly run council, but the seats were more likely saved by the association with a strong local MP – Lynne Featherstone, who is currently serving as a junior minister in the Department for International Development. Featherstone is a left-leaning Lib Dem who is known for her local campaigns.

Central London’s Lambeth and Lewisham in South East London also saw their sizeable Lib Dem groups, both serving as official oppositions, totally wiped out. Once again, the Greens benefitted, with the sole opposition member on Lewisham being a Green and Lambeth gaining a single Green councillor to act as the only opposition.

The Greens also won the second largest number of votes in North East London’s Hackney. Hackney, once a synonym for crime, deprivation and poor governance is highly diverse borough which has been utterly transformed in the last 10 years as it has become synonymous was gentrification and London’s ‘hipster’ community of young professional bohemians which is based around the Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston areas of the borough. Hackney has benefitted from the leadership of its technocratic Labour mayor, Jules Pipe. Despite coming second in votes (as they did in the other boroughs already mentioned) the Greens failed to win any seats as they came second in almost every ward in the borough, as well as in the mayoral election.

The Green Party has long failed to do well in central London even though it would seem to be a perfect match for the area. This is probably because the Lib Dems, always successful at turning to face whichever direction is electorally convenient, have largely adopted the sort of green liberalism familiar to continental European Green parties. This has obviously been extremely mismatched with their participation in government with the Conservatives, however, causing left-liberals to flee to Labour and the Green Party.

The Green Party will now need to build on its high vote in this election and start targeting seats to build up a local infrastructure, but there is a lot of potential for the party in the North of London in particular, but also in central London and in Lewisham.

The biggest disappointment of the local elections for Labour was perhaps Tower Hamlets, an incredibly diverse borough which is 41.1% Asian (32% of which are Bangladeshi) to 45.2% White and 7.3% Black.

Tower Hamlets politics has long been strained by the importation of a certain style of tribal politics from the Indian subcontinent. The local branch of the Labour Party is under ‘special measures’, a 1980s invention designed to stop entryism by the Trotskyist grouping Militant Tendency. In Tower Hamlets Labour Party’s case special measures was imposed due to what is known in Australia as ‘branch stacking’ whereby members are recruited to a party for factional reasons. In Tower Hamlets selection meetings would often see the arrival of huge numbers of members who the party had never seen before. These members were, in reality, an attempt by Bengali community leaders of two rival factions to literally buy Labour Party selections. The party discovered that in many cases members did not even realise they were members of the party, or in fact admitted to usually voting for another party. The two factions are not ideologically different, in reality this is a battle along tribal lines.

Special measures essentially places the local party under the direct control of the central party, which has imposed its own selection of candidates upon the local party, balancing candidature along ethnic lines to stop any one group from gaining total control. The Labour Party is not the only party that has suffered from this in Tower Hamlets, but as the dominant party in the borough the party has perhaps suffered the most and perhaps has the most meaningful impact.

2005 saw the election of George Galloway, a former Labour MP who had opposed the Iraq War, on his far-left RESPECT ticket in one of the Tower Hamlets parliamentary constituencies. Galloway was accused of whipping up ethnic discord against his predecessor, Oona King, one of Britain’s few black woman MPs. Galloway had been elected almost entirely on votes from the Bengali community. While Galloway lost his seat in 2010, ethnic discord continued to build.

The elected mayoral model was adopted for Tower Hamlets in 2010. The elected mayoral was hoped to bring better governance to Tower Hamlets, which has been afflicted by serious amounts of infighting amongst the dominant Labour group. The elected mayoral model has, in neighbouring Labour dominated boroughs in Newham and Hackney served to unite the Labour group around the mayor.

The regional board decided that, for the mayoral election, the local Labour Party would be allowed to select its own candidate for the mayoralty rather than having one imposed.

The selection was won by Luftur Rahman, a Bengali former council leader who had been repeatedly judged unfit for selection for mayor by regional and national figures. Rahman was viewed as an ethnically divisive figure with low loyalty to the party (he failed to endorse the two Labour candidates for Westminster running in TH in 2010). Rahman had only gone through to selection after a series of legal challenges.

Post-selection other candidates complained of electoral fraud in the process, with evidence that very large numbers of people had voted who had not been resident in the borough. The party thus removed Rahman from the position and put into place Halal Abbas, another Bengali who had come third in the selection.

Rahman subsequently decided to run as an independent candidate. Despite the fact that Rahman had backed the ‘Blairite’ David Miliband for leadership of Labour Rahman received support from the left, gaining the endorsement of RESPECT and George Galloway, and support from left-wing factions of Labour such as the entryist Trotskyists of Socialist Action. Most damagingly, he received support from Ken Livingstone, the maverick former Mayor of London, and the candidate in 2012’s London mayoral race. Livingstone had formerly won the mayoralty as an independent himself after Blair had deemed him an unacceptable candidate in 2000. Livingstone later claimed he had only backed giving a second preference to Rahman.

Rahman won the mayoralty. As mayor of Tower Hamlets he has been deeply controversial. Rahman’s cabinet has been entirely made up of Bengalis. The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan accused Rahman of links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, based in the East London mosque, which is itself accused of being a front for radical Islam. He has been accused of misusing public funds, and of consorting with criminals. In March 2014 the BBC documentary series Panorama alleged that the mayor had diverted £3.6m worth of grants to Bangladeshi and Somali community groups in exchange for political support. Tower Hamlets is now the only council in the country which publicly funds faith groups, with most money going to the Muslim community. Panorama also accused TH council of bribing journalists and Rahman of failing to answer questions at council meetings. In response, the Local Government and Communities Minister, Eric Pickles, sent fraud investigators to Tower Hamlets. Both TH and Rahman deny any wrongdoing. All in all, Rahman has been accused of basing his administration in the needs and desires of only one very narrow community.

Tower Hamlets politics has long been stained by accusations of electoral fraud. Fraud within the Labour Party has been covered above, but there are accusations of fraud in the electoral system itself.

Britain’s electoral system is surprisingly open to fraud. The electoral registration system is based upon a system of ‘household registration’ where a ‘head of household’ registers all names living in the house. No unique identifiers are required, and no ID is required at polling stations, it is possible to vote by just giving your name and address.

Since 2003 Britain also has postal voting on demand, an attempt to raise turnout. In 2005 in an electoral fraud case in Birmingham the presiding judge described the postal voting system as one which would disgrace a ‘banana republic’. The system has since been made much more secure, but allegations of fraud continue.  Britain is a country which has long run on a culture of trust. In part this has been deserved. Britain has never had a written constitution, in part, because Britain has never truly needed a written constitution. Britain is moving to a system of individual electoral registration by the 2015 general election, and the Electoral Commission has proposed a system of voter ID.

Accusations of postal voting fraud are common in TH, with activists claiming that some houses are registered for far more postal votes than could possibly live in the homes in question.

This year, in response to fraud allegations, police officers were stationed at polling stations in Tower Hamlets. Since 2010 Rahman has formed his own party, Tower Hamlets First, and the party was accused of fraud, voter intimidation and of illegally placing election posters in polling stations.

There have actually been very few investigations and arrests for fraud, and some argue that these allegations are overegged by political opponents seeking to delegitimise each other. In truth it is difficult to tell because Britain’s electoral system makes it difficult to detect and prove fraud.

The count in Tower Hamlets took 119 hours to count its ballots. No other council took more than a day to count its ballots. The extra level of security in Tower Hamlets was largely to blame. The count was widely derided as a ‘farce’, and the Electoral Commission is launching an inquiry into the count.

Rahman won 43.4% of the vote in the first round, largely believed to be almost entirely from the Bengali community. John Biggs, his Labour opponent, won 32.8% of the vote. In the second round Biggs won 6,500 second preferences compared to just 856 for Rahman, with Conservative and Lib Dem support flowing behind Biggs. However, despite receiving 88.4% of second preferences Biggs still lost to Rahman in the second round. Notably, 12,696 of the votes not cast for Rahman and Biggs in the first round did not contain a valid second preference, demonstrating the problems of the Supplementary Vote system.

Additionally, Labour lost control of TH council, winning just 20 seats to 18 for Tower Hamlets First and with 4 for the Conservatives. 3 seats lay vacant as in Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward the election was delayed due to the sad death of a THF candidate the day before the election. Hence there will be a by-election for these seats. It is likely that the Conservatives will team up with Labour during the next four years in an attempt to weaken Rahman as much as possible. Tower Hamlet’s divisive, ethnically polarised politics are likely to continue however.

Labour’s success in London extended to the London commuter belt, to cities and towns such as Reading, Basingstoke, Crawley and Milton Keynes.

The Conservatives perform better in the outer ring of London and in the West. The party’s strongest result was in Kensington and Chelsea, a central London borough synonymous with wealth, today known as the home of Russian oligarchs who treat London as their personal playground. The Conservatives held a reduced majority in Wandsworth in South London, well known as the council in the UK with the lowest council tax due to a long history of radical conservative rule. As mentioned above they barely held North London’s Barnet.

The party’s biggest success of the night was taking Kingston upon Thames council from the Liberal Democrats, a suburban council on the outskirts of South West London. The Lib Dems had ruled the council for 12 years, and rule of the council was largely perceived to have become dysfunctional. Last year the council leader stepped down after being arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. He subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. The council was also criticised for having the highest council tax in London. The Lib Dems cannot just blame the national swing here, therefore.

The Conservatives broadly performed well with the exception of Havering on London’s East end extreme. Formerly part of Essex, Havering has a skilled working class, white and socially conservative area of the type Margaret Thatcher won for the party. Internal turmoil over selections within the Conservative group had seen defections to UKIP and to independents on the council and the local Residents Association, one of the few in London, won 24 councillors, gaining 12, largely from the Tories. UKIP also won 7 councillors, surpassing Labour who actually lost councillors, going from 4 to 1 as the Residents Association and UKIP tsunami weakened them. It is likely that the Residents Assocation will take minority control, switching between Conservative and UKIP support for their proposals.

The Lib Dems were wiped out from large parts of central London, and, as mentioned above, lost Kingston. In the incredibly wealthy suburban borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in South London, where the party has traditionally been very strong, the Lib Dems lost 9 seats to the Conservatives.

However, the party did hold the last of its suburban South West London strongholds, Sutton, even increasing its seats by 2, though they lost votes, due to the effects of the bloc voting system.

Elsewhere in the UK the Lib Dems generally suffered in areas where they lacked council control or a MP. The traditional Lib Dem strategy of highly localist campaigns has allowed it to keep a hold in areas of strength. Incumbent MPs often remain popular in their areas, with popular incumbents providing a visible presence that is not Nick Clegg.

In addition to Kingston, the Lib Dems also lost control of Portsmouth city council. Portsmouth is a major naval city and port in the Southern coast. As with Kingston there had been local causes. The Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, was suspended from the party in January. Hancock also served as a councillor and was the only MP in Britain to simultaneously serve as part of his council’s cabinet. Hancock had long been a controversial MP, with a reputation as a womaniser and activist on behalf of the Russian government, had been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting constituents. Hancock’s suspension from the party was strongly opposed by the local party. He was suspended as a councillor and became an independent but the local party essentially formed a coalition with him so that he could remain part of the council cabinet before being booted out by the national party.

Hancock ran as an independent for the council this year. The local Lib Dems ran no candidate in opposition to him de facto supporting his candidature. Hancock’s bid for re-election failed, however, as he was defeated by UKIP. The Lib Dems had broadly maintained their strength in 2011 and 2012 in Portsmouth, but in response to the local scandal the party was dealt a massive blow. The party lost 5 seats and lost control of the council to No Overall Control. While the party remains the largest on the council with 19 seats to 12 for the Conservatives, 6 for UKIP (all newly elected), 4 for Labour and 1 Independent it appears that they will lose control of the council as Labour and UKIP, disgusted with the local Lib Dem group, are preparing to support a minority Conservative cabinet.

The Lib Dems held up well with their areas with MPs, outside London. For instance, winning the most votes in the Sheffield Hallam part of Sheffield, held by the party leader, Nick Clegg. The party regained a seat lost to an independent defection in Eastleigh, its stronghold. The party lost only one seat in South Lakeland, its other stronghold, where Tim Farron, the party president widely believed to be a future leadership contender has his seat. However there were exceptions, such as left-leaning, student city Cambridge, and the party was reduced to only 3 seats in Norwich where it holds the more Southern of the 2 constituencies.

The party was wiped out in Metropolitan boroughs. Manchester Withington MP John Leech, elected in 2005 on a student and anti-war vote can pretty much write off his chances of holding his seat in 2015 as there is not a single Lib Dem left on Manchester City Council.

The Conservatives held up well throughout that part of England outside London, whereas Labour performed badly. In the key Labour target of the South Western town of Swindon, for instance, the Tories actually increased their majority from 1 to 2 as they took a seat from Labour. Embarrassingly for Labour, Ed Miliband was asked about the party’s leader on the council he revealed that he didn’t know who he was and then assumed he was already council leader.

Labour performed well in the Metropolitan boroughs. They now hold every single seat on Manchester City Council, bar one, held by an independent who has defected from Labour. ‘Half an opposition councillor’ as some have joked.

The Greens also performed well in the Mets. They won the second largest number of votes in Manchester and with 4 seats are now the opposition in Liverpool. They increased their seats to six in the unitary council of Bristol, and to 9 in Solihull, an affluent suburb of Birmingham, making them the joint second largest party with the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt is another MP likely to lose her seat (her majority is a razor thin 175).

The only other Conservative held Met is Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where they continue to hold a majority of 3. The Mets, are, however, Labour strongholds anyway, with the exceptions of Trafford and Solihull. It does not help Labour to make gains in Liverpool, where it currently holds all six of the MPs, the elected mayoralty and an overwhelming majority on the council.

Fans of maps should see the interactive one of London local election results in 2014, 2010 and 2006 here.

Elections doyen Lewis Baston has also made some excellent maps with a map of UKIP performance here, a similar map with Green performance here and a map of second place finishes here.

European Election Results

UKIP (EFD) 27.5% (+11.0%) winning 24 seats (+11)
Labour (S&D) 25.4% (+9.7%) winning 20 seats (+7)
Conservatives (ECR) 23.9% (-3.8%) winning 19 seats (-7)
Green Party (G-EFA) 7.9% (-0.8%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Liberal Democrats (ALDE) 6.9% (-6.9%) winning 1 seat (-10)
Scottish National Party (G-EFA) 2.5% (+0.3%) winning 2 seats (NC)
Plaid Cymru (G-EFA) 0.7% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (NC)
An Independence from Europe 1.5% (-) winning 0 seats (-)
British National Party (NI) 1.1% (-5.1%) winning 0 seats (-2)

The 2014 European Parliament election provided a huge success to UKIP, who became the first party to win a national election in the UK besides the Labour and the Conservatives since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s. For the first time, the Conservatives were pushed into third in a national election.

Regionally UKIP topped the poll in in the East Midlands, the East of England, South East England, South West England, the West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Labour topped the poll in London, North West and North East England, Scotland and Wales, its strongest regions.

EP 2014: Largest party in England by council area (source: Wikipedia)

UKIP’s strongest regions are the heavily Eurosceptic regions of the South West, South East and East, but the party gained strongly in the North of England, as a result of the party’s increasing inroads amongst Labour voters. The party’s biggest gains were in Wales (+17.1%) the North East (+17.0%), Yorkshire and Humber (+16.8), and the North West (+15.8%) all strongly Labour regions and it came second in North East England (by 7.3%), North West England (by 6.3%) and Wales (by an incredibly narrow 1.6% in the supposedly one party state.)

The exceptions to UKIP’s big gains were Scotland (where it gained just 3.8%) and London (where it gained just 4.6%). It also showed a weaker rise in the East Midlands (+6.8%) and the South West of England (+12.6%) largely because these areas were ‘early adopters’ of UKIP.

In Scotland UKIP succeeded in electing a MEP for the very first time, sending shockwaves through progressive opinion north of the border which had long claimed that Scotland was immune to UKIP. Nonetheless, UKIP only gained a single seat. David Coburn, the party’s new Scottish MEP is already a controversial figure in Scotland due to his being the London regional chair, with the widespread perception that he was ‘parachuted in’ into a divided Scottish party branch against its will.

Since being elected Coburn’s views on gay marriage (he is opposed, despite being gay himself) and on Scottish Independence (in the event of a yes vote he wants to hold another referendum to try and reverse the decision after the 2015 election) have also been controversial.

UKIP’s appeal in Scotland has been blunted by its English nationalism and the presence of the SNP as an alternative anti-establishment, nationalist (albeit left-wing nationalist) party.

The SNP had been aiming for a third seat, and its coming second to Labour is something of a blow to the party pre-referendum. Yet we should remember the low turnout and that Labour is both in opposition in the UK and Scottish parliaments to the SNP.

London was also an outlier from the UK wide trend. As in the local elections, Labour tore through London, winning half of London’s MEPs, 4, (an increase of 2) on 36.7% of the vote. UKIP managed only 16.9% of the vote and 1 seat, the only region of the country where it came third.

During the local elections count, UKIP’s communities spokeswoman commented that London was not good for UKIP because it is ‘young, cultured and educated’, leading to guffaws from UKIP’s opponents who derided her as saying that UKIP was the party of the old, the stupid and the backwards.

Yet, there is an element of truth to this. UKIP’s support is most strong amongst white, elderly, poorly educated voters. Multicultural, youthful, highly educated London is indeed bad ground for the party.

Labour’s performance around the rest of Britain was poorer, however, whereas the Conservative vote held up well. With Scotland and London removed, the Conservatives would have beaten Labour. This exposes the weak position Labour is now in less than a year from a general election.

The Greens fell back slightly, but increased their seats by 1 partially due to a Lib Dem collapse, winning an extra seat in the South West to go with their seat in the South East (where their stronghold of Brighton is and where there are the most seats and the lowest effective threshold)  and in London. The Greens may perhaps have had only 1 seat had it not been for ‘An Independence from Europe’. AIE is a breakaway party from UKIP formed by former UKIP MEP Mike Nattrass who was deselected by UKIP. The party appears to have acted as a spoiler on UKIP, with it going to the top of the ballot as Britain’s ballots are alphabetically ordered (hence UKIP was near the bottom), winning on average 2% of the vote in the regions it stood in (it missed Wales and Scotland). We can assume that the vast majority of AIE voters would have voted UKIP had the party not existed. As such UKIP would have taken the Green seats in London and the South West.

The Lib Dems lost 10 seats, reduced to only a single MEP, Catherine Bearder, elected in the South East, which has the lowest effective threshold. In fairness to the party they always perform badly in European elections where the party’s pro-Europeanism is unpopular and where elected representatives are too distant to use the Lib Dems usual tactics of building a popular local representative. The regional system also means that in many regions the party had won one of the last seats in 2009, just clearing the effective threshold for representation. With the party’s collapse, the party fell below the effective thresholds and lost seats almost everywhere, including influential MEPs such as former ALDE leader Graham Watson in the South West, and Vice-President of the European Parliament, and key Tory defector Edward McMillan-Scott.

EP 2014: Largest party in Scotland by council area (source: Wikipedia)

Excellent maps of the European election result can be found on the Election-Data blog here.

Overall, the elections expose a new division in the UK, between London and the rest of the country. Labour’s strength in London exposes an increasing divide between it and the rest of England. This is apparent in public opinion data. For instance, on immigration most of the country very much favours more stringent immigration policy, but London tends to slightly favour immigration. Labour policies on the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ predominantly appeal in London where prices are highest. For instance, rent controls have little resonance in rural areas and small towns where rents are relatively low and home ownership is more typically the norm. Labour’s London strength is also because it is younger and multicultural. We can also see the Greens beginning to break through in London.

Labour also has its best machines in London, with estimates suggesting that a quarter of Labour’s membership resides in the capital. Labour has become a party of urban England, but a majority is unlikely to be won on London and Northern cities alone.

UKIP poses the party a big threat in smaller towns. The elections have put paid to the often touted lie that UKIP’s voters are universally former Conservative voters disenchanted with the coalition. UKIP is the representative of a vast social shift in Britain. The party won more votes, but also has a much loyal base. While the party’s European result includes a large number of ‘strategic defectors’ using the EP elections to say ‘no three times’ – to Westminster, to immigration and to Brussels, there are less than in previous years. Polls suggest that around 60% of UKIP’s voters will support it at the general election.

The Conservatives are broadly happy with their performance. The party lost to Labour in both elections, but only thinly by a few points. Polls also suggest it is only slightly behind Labour. This is a year before a general election. Typically the last year before an election sees movement towards the governing party. Economic confidence is quickly rising as the recovery is under way. The party will aim to put a squeeze on UKIP voters, who tend to prefer Cameron as Prime Minister to Ed Miliband and who may be persuadable to voting Conservative strategically to stop Miliband becoming PM.

Yet the party retains significant weaknesses amongst key voting demographics and in key regions of the country.

The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing result. Yet, in the results is a glimmer of hope that it will outperform its national swing in 2015, holding the majority of its seats.

Nonetheless, the party experienced an attempted coup against Nick Clegg on beginning the weekend after the election. A shadowy group called ‘LibDems4Change’ launched an e-petition calling for a leadership contest, and on the Sunday an unnamed Lib Dem leaked a poll to The Observer newspaper supposedly demonstrating that key seats were in danger of being lost unless Nick Clegg was replaced by the more left-leaning Business Secretary Vince Cable. On being released publically it was demonstrated that the poll had methodological issues (a debunking by the pollster Survation can be read here which shows that under ICM’s usual methodology the seats would have been held.)

The poll was later revealed to have been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott, a former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman from the early days of the Treasury who is known to be one of Cable’s closest friends. Cable rapidly distanced himself from Oakeshott, and Oakeshott resigned from the party and took a leave of absence from the Lords. Oakeshott’s coup attempt was widely viewed as incompetent and in a sense it may have strengthened Clegg by acting as a lightning rod for discontent before being defeated.

This is the last test of British public opinion before the 2015 general election, and the Scottish Independence referendum this September.

However, there is a by-election this Thursday, in the Conservative safe seat of Newark. UKIP is polling well.

Guest Post: Ireland 2014

ep2014

David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the results of the European and local elections in Ireland

The Irish European and Local elections, along with two parliamentary by-elections, took place on May 23rd. They were the first truly major nationwide polling test of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that took office in 2011, when the financial collapse and subsequent involvement of the IMF finally brought down the increasingly beleaguered Fianna Fáil-Green coalition.

Since the General Election

The new Fine Gael-Labour government, elected amidst a tidal wave of popular anger that brought Fianna Fáil, the largest party in the Irish state in every election from 1932, to third and behind both of the new coalition partners, had considerable good will towards it. Led by Enda Kenny, the long standing Fine Gael leader (since 2002) and a former Minister for Tourism, the government had a crushing parliamentary majority. There were indications that the government could prove fractious. Labour, a Social Democratic party, had largely campaigned against excessive cuts to public services, while Fine Gael, a Christian Democratic party, had made it very clear that they were in favour of implementing the proposed austerity budgets negotiated by their predecessors, even if they were not very happy with it. The final coalition agreement, while containing commitments to several socially liberal reforms that pleased Labour, largely followed the Fine Gael line on the economy.

The government has trumpeted its economic success. Unemployment has fallen steadily (but remains very high), Ireland has left the bailout program and its bonds are no longer rated as ‘junk’. However little of this has, or is expected to, reach the general public. Emigration, particularly to Britain and Australia, remains enormous. Taxes are now among Europe’s highest, public services are rated as mediocre at best compared to other European countries and, most importantly, there is absolutely no sign that anything other than tax increases and budget cuts will be on the cards at all for at least another ten years, making it hard for the public to feel optimistic for an economic recovery that is unlikely to benefit them at all.

Inevitably therefore, this enormous popularity was not to last, and the government as its term has gone on has suffered increasing domestic setbacks. They were most obviously felt by Labour, which began to suffer enormously from (effectively) conceding the economy to Fine Gael. While immediately following the General Election Labour won both the Presidential election and a by-election in Dublin West – the constituency held by the Labour Deputy Leader Joan Burton – the party has increasingly suffered from defections and resignations the longer it has been in government. In November 2011 – six months after taking office – popular junior minister Willie Penrose had resigned from the party over the relocation of an army barracks in his constituency. He was followed one month later by the resignations of two backbenchers over the austerity proposed in the budget, with one the resignations being Patrick Nulty – the newly elected deputy for Dublin West. In September 2012 another junior minister, Roisin Shortall, a senior party figure who was considered a strong contender for a cabinet post, resigned from the party and government over disagreements with the Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly following perceived favouritism of his constituency in health resource allocation. In December of that year another backbencher resigned over the budget, eventually joining Fianna Fáil, and in June 2013 MEP Nessa Childers resigned as well, saying that she “no longer wanted to support a Government that is actually hurting people”.  Throughout all of this time the party suffered the loss of a steady stream of local councillors, most of whom resigning from the party with issues of the support of the party leadership for austerity.

Labour’s poll rating fell steadily, from roughly the 19% it received in the general election of 2011 to 9-10% by 2014, and a clear fourth place in the polls, behind Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. In March 2013 the party suffered a crushing defeat in the Meath East by-election – a largely commuter belt constituency where the party had received 21% in 2011 – winning a mere 4.6% of the vote. In spite of all of this Labour’s woes were certainly not the biggest challenge facing the government.

Kenny, having survived a challenge to his leadership in 2010 by his Deputy Leader Richard Bruton, began to surround himself with those figures in Fine Gael who stood by him in that time, and appointed all of them to senior cabinet posts. Unfortunately, it was these figures that began to cause the government the most trouble. A referendum on Children’s Rights that passed in 2012 still has not been signed into law because the Minister for Children used departmental money to promote the referendum – which is unconstitutional in Ireland and resulted in a legal challenge to its validity. Environment Minister Phil Hogan was responsible for the implementation of water and property taxes nationwide, which has made him a lightning rod for public anger. Health Minister and Fine Gael Deputy Leader James Reilly, in addition to negative press over favouring his constituency, has been plagued by a series of news reports discussing cost overruns in his department and for his botched removal of certain medical cards (which provide free medical care to needy groups, such as pensioners, those in poverty and certain chronic illnesses), with his department supposedly taking cards away from individuals with terminal cancer and down syndrome on the basis that they were unneeded. Furthermore his flagship policy – free medical care for children under six, has proven surprisingly unpopular as people perceive the money for it to be taken off other aspects of the health service.

However it was Justice Minister Alan Shatter that caused the most problems. While widely respected as an excellent legislator and an advocate for liberal reforms such as the legalisation of divorce early on in his career, he is also regarded as arrogant and difficult to work with. A scandal erupted in February 2014 involving the bugging of the Gardai Siochana Ombudsman Commission, the body responsible for investigating claims of malpractice by members of the police service, with equipment sophisticated enough that they had to have come from another government agency. Following this and allegations made about police malpractice Shatter and the Garda (Police) Commissioner were forced to resign only a little over three weeks before the elections were due to take place.

However it was not only the government that was suffering problems. Both of the main opposition parties had issues going into the election campaign. On the 30th of April 2014 the leader of Sinn Féin (SF), a left wing and nationalist party with historic links to the IRA, was arrested for involvement with the murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, in Belfast in 1972. McConville was ‘disappeared’ by the IRA for being thought to be a British informer, but was subsequently posthumously acquitted. Adams has long been linked to the murder but has never been formally connected to it until new evidence emerged from an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict conducted in Boston College, Massachusetts. While he was released without charges brought against him three days later it was thought that this would remind people of SF’s past, and bring its association with conflict back into the minds of voters. However it did not notably impact on the polls.

Fianna Fáil (FF), a centrist party with populist leanings, also had problems with the past after it emerged that Mary Hanafin, a former Deputy Leader of the party and cabinet minister who was defeated in the 2011 election wipeout, had been nominated to contest the local elections in Blackrock, an affluent suburb in the south of Dublin. While the party initially denied it, and said that she was running on her own, it transpired that she had received the necessary paperwork from the party general secretary to be a party candidate. This caused quite a degree of anger, as Hanafin was strongly associated with the last FF government, which FF was trying to distance itself from. Eventually the party compromised by saying that they were only acknowledging the other candidate as an official candidate. It should be noted though that despite the huge news coverage this provoked, the party quite quietly ran several other former deputies defeated in 2011, such as Charlie O’Connor in Tallaght, a working-class Dublin suburb, and Margaret Conlon in Monaghan, a rural county on the border with Northern Ireland.

In addition to the regularly scheduled local and European elections two by-elections were also held. The first was held for the tragic death of Nicky McFadden, a Fine Gael deputy for the rural midlands constituency of Longford-Westmeath, of Motor Neuron disease. The second was held following the resignation of Patrick Nulty, elected as a Labour deputy but now an independent, in Dublin West, a working class commuter belt constituency. Nulty himself was elected in a by-election earlier on this parliamentary term, and resigned over inappropriate messages sent to constituents over Facebook.

The Campaign, candidates and elections in Ireland

Ireland uses PR-STV to count elections. This is a proportional system where voters rank candidates, and not parties, in the order of their preference – eliminating the bottom ranked candidates and distributing their preferences until all of the seats are filled (more details can be found on Wikipedia) . Ballot papers are often very long.

Untitled

The Dublin ballot paper for the European parliament election

Election campaigns in Ireland are highly personalistic. The single best thing that politicians can do to win votes is regarded as knocking on people’s doors and personally meeting them (called canvassing). Parties put up posters, giving their candidates, and rarely their party, prominence on every lamppost (a selection are on the right and left).

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

For European elections profile is considered crucial however, as the constituencies are considered far too large for canvassing. The parties therefore place great care on who they nominate. There are three constituencies for the European Parliament – the three-seater Dublin, South, a four seater containing most areas south of the capital, including Ireland’s second city of Cork. Midlands-North West, another four-seater, contained the central rural counties, the border with Northern Ireland and most of the Western seaboard.

In Dublin Fine Gael nominated Brian Hayes, a prominent junior minister. Labour nominated their incumbent MEP Emer Costello, a replacement for the previous elected MEP, and Fianna Fáil nominated local councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who was well known for her acrimonious relationship with former Taoiseach Berie Ahern, and was widely regarded as having her election hopes in 2007 personally sabotaged by him in spite of them being on the same party ticket. FF evidently hoped that nominating someone with such a clear association against the old party leadership would stand to them. SF however nominated the almost completely unknown Lynn Boylan, an ecologist. For the minor parties the far-left Socialist Party nominated its sitting MEP Paul Murphy, who replaced party leader Joe Higgins upon his election to parliament. The Green Party nominated party leader Eamon Ryan, a former cabinet minister now without a seat in parliament following their collapse, and People Before Profit, a minor Trotskyist umbrella group, nominated local councillor Brid Smith. Among the more notable independent for the area was MEP Nessa Childers, formerly of Labour. Polls indicated that Boylan and Hayes would take the first two seats for Dublin, with the final seat competitive between all other candidates, with Fitzpatrick, Childers and Ryan being somewhat ahead of Costello, Murphy and Smith.

In South Fine Gael nominated outgoing MEP Sean Kelly, Senator Deirdre Clune, member of a political dynasty in Cork, and deputy Simon Harris, based just south of Dublin. Fianna Fáil nominated immensely popular incumbent Brian Crowley, a socially conservative figure, and Kieran Hartley, an anti-pylon campaigner. Labour nominated incumbent Phil Prendergast, who was expected to struggle, and SF nominated Liadh Ní Riada, the party’s Irish language officer, who has never previously run for office. The other candidates were the Green’s Grace O’Sullivan, a Greenpeace activist, and independent Diarmaid O’Flynn. Crowley was considered almost certain to be the biggest vote winner nationally, and Kelly and Ní Riada also considered certain to be elected. The last seat was considered to be an internal battle between Fine Gael’s Clune and Harris.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

In the sprawling Midlands-North West Fine Gael nominated their outgoing MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins, FF nominated outgoing MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher and Senator Thomas Byrne. SF nominated Monaghan councillor Matt Carthy, Labour ran long-shot candidate Senator Lorraine Higgins and the Greens ran former senator Mark Dearey. Additionally a number of independents ran in the region, ensuring a lively contest there. Outgoing independent MEP Marian Harkin, regarded as a centrist, ran to hold her seat. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (nicknamed such because of his supposed resemblance to supervillain Ming the Merciless), a deputy for Roscommon and an eccentric figure in Irish politics, ran on a Eurosceptic platform that criticised EU protection of bogs and marshes (as in rural Ireland they are often dug up for fuel). In Ireland however he is best known for his advocation of the legalisation of cannabis. Additionally independent Senator Ronan Mullen was a candidate. He is well known for his vociferous opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Most polls agreed that McGuinness and Carthy were certainties, and that Flanagan was polling competitively, and would be in the reckoning with Gallagher and Harkin for the final two seats.

In the Dublin West by-election most candidates were the same as the last by-election in the area, and were local councillors. The seat was regarded as competitive between FF and the minor Socialist Party, which has a strong base in the area. The Longford-Westmeath by-election had Fine Gael nominate the sister of the deceased deputy, and FF nominated the son of a former deputy for the area, both hoping to capitalise on dynastic goodwill in the area. The seat was regarded as competitive between the pair of them, with Labour and SF far behind.

While both Martin Schultz (the PES candidate for EU commission president) and Ska Keller (the Green candidate for the same post) did campaign in Dublin, Irish voters would be forgiven for not knowing this, seeing as it received no news coverage. The campaigns stayed remarkably parochial and focused on local concerns that had little to do with the European parliament, the most notable of which was the Socialist Party renaming itself as the ‘Stop the Water Tax-Socialist Party’ for the election (creating the amusing situation in Ireland of the far-left campaigning against water and property taxes which the right does not oppose), which is something that the European Parliament has no power over.

It was widely expected in the local elections that Labour would do very badly, although some of the worst damage might be mitigated due to local government reforms. Environment Minister Hogan stipulated that all local wards must have at least six seats, which meant that many wards were merged. He also tried to address the population imbalance of local councillors, which meant taking seats away from rural areas and giving them to urban ones, and particularly Dublin, where most of Labour’s seats are. He also increased the overall number of councillors in compensation for the abolition of town councils, a largely powerless layer of local government just below the county councils that the election was for.

For the local elections the ward of Ballybay-Clones, in Monaghan, has not voted yet owing to the death of one of the local councillors in the polling station, so there are six more seats to be filled.

Results

European Parliament

Turnout: 52.44% (-6.2%)
MEPs: 11 (-1) in 3 multi-member constutiencies
Electoral system: STV

Fianna Fáil (ALDE) 22.3% (-1.8) – 1 (-2)
Fine Gael (EPP) 22.3% (-6.8) – 4 (nc)
Sinn Féin (GUE-NGL) 19.5% (+8.3) – 3 (+3)
Labour (PES) 5.3% (-8.6) – 0 (-3)
Green Party (G-EFA) 4.9% (+3) – 0 (nc)
Socialist Party (GUE-NGL) – 1.8% (-0.9) – 0 (-1)
People Before Profit – 1.5% (+1.5) – 0 (nc)
Independents and others – 22.4% (+10.9) – 3 (+2)

Full count details available at ElectionsIreland.org.

Local elections

Fianna Fáil – 25.3% (-0.1) – 266 (+48)
Fine Gael – 24.0% (-8.2) – 232 (-108)
Sinn Féin – 15.2% (+7.8) – 157 (+103)
Labour – 7.2% (-7.5) – 51 (-81)
Green Party – 1.6% (-0.7) – 12 (+9)
People Before Profit – 1.7% (+0.8) – 14 (+9)
Socialist Party – 1.3% (+0.4) – 14 (+10)
Independents and Others – 23.7% (+7.4) – 198 (+69)

Newly elected Green councillor Claire Byrne made quite a good series of graphics for each local election result, helping to visualise the process of a PR-STV count for those who are not used to it.

The results of both the Local and European elections were catastrophic for the government. Both governmental parties performed worse than any poll predicted. Labour’s dreadful showing was both predicted and still shocking for the party. It was not even competitive for a European seat – with all three of their candidates going out of the count very early on. However it was in the local elections that Labour’s nightmare became clear.

Labour had long been relying on a local vote for its councillors – counting on its local members being much more popular than the party nationally and therefore able to withstand the pressure of the electorate, much like FF were hoping in the 2011 General Election. Like FF, they were bitterly disappointed. An initial early projection had the party winning as few as 39 seats nationally based on an exit poll, and early indications seemed to bear that out, with initial expectations suggesting that the party may elect as few as three members on Dublin City Council, where they had 18 outgoing councillors. The final results were somewhat better, as the party scraped through to hold a number of seats by narrow margins, with eight survivors in Dublin City. Nonetheless, their result was appalling. The party was reduced to only two seats from 86 in Cork City and county – an area where they have four parliamentary deputies – and were entirely eradicated in Cork City and Waterford City. In Wicklow, a commuter county south of Dublin that was a long-time stronghold for Labour, the party won no seats and only 3% of the vote. In working class Dublin the party was nearly totally obliterated. It returned only one councillor with a constituency average of 13% within Dublin South Central, a very deprived area where the party won 35% and two members of parliament in 2011. It went from 28% in the General Election to 11%, and no councillors, in Dublin Central – where the Minister for International Development has his seat.

The party held up somewhat better in middle class areas and in some of their more rural strongholds, although even here success could be measured in holding seats rather than gaining them. It still won 18% in the Dublin Bay South constituency, which contains mostly wealthy and well educated professionals and is a stronghold for socially liberal politics. The party sensationally held on to a seat in Clontarf – a middle class suburb without the more bohemian elements that characterise Dublin Bay South that the party has had difficulty winning even on good days. In the wealthy suburbs to the south of Dublin City, in Dun Laoighaire-Rathdown, the party only lost one seat on the whole council to leave them with seven. In their rural strongholds in the South-East of the country the party also had credible performances. In rural Carlow and Kilkenny, the party won 13% and 11% of the vote – more than sufficient to hold their parliamentary representation there, and the party clung to representation in rural Wexford and Waterford (where, as already mentioned, their heavy losses were actually in Waterford City, where they should do much better). The party is starting to resemble the Liberal Democrats in Britain – with strength in certain rural pockets and among the liberal middle class, and not among the working class that they claim to represent.

Fine Gael’s election was also awful – although somewhat disguised by how badly Labour did and the fact that they held all four of their European seats. No poll had the party coming in second, and the party’s losses in some areas were quite severe. The party failed to return representation in Dublin South Central (which may be becoming a government blackspot) and also suffered heavy losses in Donegal, a border county in the North that always feels as though the government is treating it badly, and Mayo, the constituency of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny – where his brother came extremely close to losing his council seat. What seems to have hurt the party most is extremely poor candidate strategies at local level. The party seemed to be planning on the basis that they would perform much better than polls predicted that they would – and not worse. Apparently the party was planning on an electoral bounce from leaving the bailout program that never actually materialised. In Bray for instance, a Dublin commuter town, the party ran three candidates and only had one electoral quota between them – almost causing the party return no representative there.

By contrast in Europe and the by-elections the party has reason to be pleased, in spite of the defeat of long-time MEP Jim Higgins. In spite of finishing about 400 votes behind FF in the national vote total it won four seats to the one won by its great rival. It achieved this by good vote management and candidate selection. Its lone candidate in Dublin, junior minister Brian Hayes, polled better than the party did in the local elections, and scraped in, probably on his high profile. While Jim Higgins was defeated in Midlands-North West Mairead McGuinness won quite easily there, and in South the party managed to get both Kelly and Clune elected with significantly fewer votes than FF – who only won one seat there. They managed this by having a fairly even split between their candidates, meaning that they tended to avoid being eliminated early in the count. Additionally the party held Longford-Westmeath fairly easily, making this the third time out of four the government has won a by-election (before this parliamentary term no government had won or held a seat in a by-election since 1982).

FF’s feelings about their result are probably mixed. On the one hand it is clearly the largest party in local government again. On the other hand the party has legitimate reason to be disappointed. It actually lost votes on its last, awful, local election performance and many of its gains could be attributed to how badly Fine Gael and Labour did than by a popular mandate for FF. What the party has most reason to be pleased about was its modest recovery in Dublin, where the party currently has no parliamentary representation and where its decline was starting to look terminal. It placed second in the Dublin West by-election – easily ahead of both government parties and it took nine seats on Dublin City Council and came second, and won a seat in all bar one ward on the City Council (which was more than either Fine Gael or Labour managed on either count). Both Hanafin and the ‘official’ party candidate won in Blackrock despite the controversy of her candidature, which clearly did not hurt the party, and is one more seat than the party had any reason to expect in the ward. It is the largest party on numerous councils that are very different from each other, from republican and border county Donegal to prosperous Dublin commuter belt in Kildare. More disappointingly, the party failed to win long-time strongholds like Kerry and Galway, and placed second in the Longford-Westmeath by-election – which is usually reasonable territory for them. Nonetheless, the party has, since the 2004 local elections, lost 164 county council seats, with 84 gone in 2009 alone. This gain of 48 seats in no way compensates for this loss. The party still has a long way to go towards complete recovery, but it may have stopped the rot.

In Europe however the party has most reason to be disappointed. In spite of actually winning the largest number of votes nationally, it only won a single seat – that of Brian Crowley in South. This places it behind both Fine Gael and SF. The reason for this can be seen in awful strategy and vote management. Their candidate in Dublin actually placed third on the first count, but was overtaken by both the Greens and independent MEP Nessa Childers as the count went on, and placed fifth. While certainly a credible performance that has placed their candidate well for a parliamentary seat when the next general election is called, they will still be disappointed with the result. In South Crowley seems to have refused to share his vote or engaged in any kind of disciplined constituency split that Fine Gael undertook, causing the party to lose a seat that, by all rights and even by vote share, they should have won. This is a problem the party has had before at parliamentary level, with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and cabinet minister Willie O’Dea running away with astronomical vote totals, only to leave the other party candidates in the dust with far too few votes to win a seat. However it is Midlands-North West that is most bitter for the party. In spite of polls always showing that it was possible and the insistence of the MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher that his seat was in no way secure, the party still seemed shocked when he lost the final seat by a mere 275 votes. While the constituency was undoubtedly crowded with lots of strong candidates, it seems to have been a huge error to run two candidates – allowing Marian Harkin to assemble a strong lead on early eliminations that transpired to be, just about, unassailable. The party needs to have a long, hard look at its strategy. It lost two seats which it had the votes for – one because it could not impose a constituency division or vote split on a sitting MEP, another because it could, but the ensuing vote split meant that their lead candidate had just too much ground to make up.

Sinn Féin is, understandably, delighted at its result and is certainly the clear winner of the election. All three of its European candidates won and won well, including coming first in Dublin. On Dublin City Council only two of its candidates failed to be elected. The party is now without seats in only four wards across the whole Dublin area – and it was unlucky to fail to win in Rathgar-Rathmines. The party finally achieved its breakthrough across middle class Dublin. It topped the poll in Dundrum, considered the epitome of prosperous south Dublin. It won a seat in Killiney, a haunt for old money where Bono lives. It won a seat too in Pembroke-South Dock in another poll-topping performance – the ward containing Ireland’s most expensive addresses and embassy row. In working class area its results were stunning even to the party itself, and it could have won several more seats if it had actually run more candidates in those areas. For instance in exurban and working class Tallaght South the party won over 50% of the vote – which could easily have it won it three or even four of the ward’s six seats, but it only ran two candidates. In Clondalkin, a similar ward, the party had more than three vote quotas between its two candidates. Very unexpectedly, the party placed first on the first count in the Dublin West by-election. Dublin West, in spite of it being largely working class, has always been considered a bad area for the party with the local strength of the Socialist Party, and while the party placed third in the by-election in the end, it is well placed for the future.

Outside of Dublin its performance could be considered good rather than spectacular. It placed a clear third in the Longford-Westmeath by-election, and failed to win the very republican counties of Kerry and Donegal, which on the back of such a strong showing it should have been more competitive in. Nonetheless the party had clear successes. It beat the Labour Party into fourth place in Galway City – where it had previously had no representation. The party placed second in Cork City, with eight seats and clearly ahead of Fine Gael. It won seats in every ward in rural Limerick – one of their worst areas nationally historically. On the back of this kind of performance there are very few areas where SF could fail to be at least competitive in a general election, and the other parties know it. Indeed their rhetoric towards the party has noticeably softened since the results, hinting that they would be willing to consider coalition with them.

It was a good election all round for the three main small parties – the Green Party, the Socialist Party and People Before Profit. The Greens only narrowly missed a European seat in Dublin, and its candidates in other regions performed credibly. While its vote in the local election fell this was because it ran much fewer candidates than last time, and it won twelve seats, a gain of nine. This included a poll-topping performance Rathgar-Rathmines in Dublin – the first time the party has headed any poll anywhere since 1999. It should be noted however that nine of the party’s seats are in the greater Dublin area, including Wicklow, and those that are not are personal fiefdoms in Dundalk and Kilkenny that the party had held even in 2009. It missed seats in Galway and Cork with good candidates, and it must be noted that even their Dublin seats tend to be in areas where the party had won before their collapse. The party seems to have bounced back to where it was before, and it would need to do quite a bit better than this local performance to win any parliamentary seats – but, like FF, it remains on track for recovery.

The Socialists had a mixed day. On the one hand they won the Dublin West by-election and took fourteen council seats, a real breakthrough. On the other hand they lost their European seat in Dublin fairly easily. Taking the by-election sets up their winning candidate Ruth Coppinger to succeed their long-time parliamentarian Joe Higgins, who is retiring, as the Socialist voice in Dublin West. It was always going to be difficult holding the European seat without Higgins as a candidate and, indeed, no poll had the co-opted MEP Paul Murphy as truly competitive for it. The local result was very good. In addition to its usual sweep of council seats in its Dublin West stronghold the party took a seat on Dublin City Council for the first time, and had a breakthrough outside of Dublin –winning three seats in Cork City and three in Limerick.

People Before Profit had similar reason to be pleased. Unlike the Socialists, it never expected to be competitive for Europe so polling well, even if not well enough for a seat, was a pleasant surprise. The party did quite well in the Dublin area – wiping Labour out in Dun Laoghaire ward, the personal base of de-facto party leader Richard Boyd-Barrett, and winning three seats in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council – and only very narrowly losing two other seats to Labour in the area. It also broke through on the other Dublin councils. In Dublin City Council it won five seats – including its first seats on the North side of the city that it usually unofficially ceded to the Socialists. It won fourteen seats overall. Like the Socialists this sets them up to have a full parliamentary delegation come the next general election.

One of the big news stories of the contest though was the success of independent candidates. In Europe their success was particularly high profile. Nessa Childers held her seat in the European Parliament, in spite of moving constituency to Dublin. Europe may too need to get used to Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who did very well in Midlands-North West and took the first seat, and Marian Harkin held off FF to win the last seat in the area. At local level too independents were successful, increasing their representation on virtually all councils. Many independents elected are associated with particular independent parliamentarians, and so resemble a kind of unofficial local party, with such organisations being quite prominent in Kerry, where there are two of them, in Kildare and in Waterford – all places with strong independent deputies. Additionally many councillors formerly members of Labour had spectacularly good elections, placing ahead of the official candidates of the party they left. In spite of the generally good results some of the more established local independents and minor parties did quite badly though. The ‘Lowry Group’ in Tipperary, associated with former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry who is under a seemingly never-ending corruption investigation – only returned three councillors. The long established ‘Gregory Group’ in Dublin’s North Inner City did not return any official group candidate – although a former group member was elected as an independent. United Left, a micro-left party associated with two far-left parliamentarians that were connected to the Socialists and People Before Profit before, only elected one councillor.

It is probably foolish to talk of independents as one group. Many of the rural independents are about as far removed from the left-wing urban independents as it is possible to be in the Irish political space – but many of these candidates will certainly poll well in a general election, and win seats.

Aftermath                                                                                                                                                                

The most immediate consequence of the election was the resignation of Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore, who resigned rather than be ousted by a group of panicked parliamentarians. Virtually every member of his parliamentary party has announced that they are running for either leader or deputy leader and, whoever wins, is likely to be much more combative than Gilmore over government economic policy. Depending on who it is and what they demand from Fine Gael, this could destabilise the government enough to cause it fall.

Fine Gael, too has been shaken. The party was under the illusion that FF was now so tainted that it could nearly win by default. That is clearly not the case. The party now knows that it will need to fight hard to win a second term in government – something never before achieved by the party. FF, for its part, knows that it may yet have a chance of re-entering government, stabilising nerves.

If SF remain coalition poison, which is becoming less likely but still present for the parties, and independents do as well as this, only a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is likely to be mathematically possible after the next election, something that is likely to finish the junior partner in that alliance utterly. It seems likely that Ireland is entering a period with no truly large parties, and no real political stability.

South Africa 2014

In the next three weeks, expect posts (time depending) on the EU, India, Colombia, Ukraine and Belgium. I am still welcoming any contributions from readers who wish to help out with the coverage of this avalanche of elections by submitting guest posts.

National and provincial legislative elections were held in South Africa on May 7, 2014. All 400 members of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa, and all members of South Africa’s nine provincial legislatures (a total of 430 seats) were up for reelection.

This post on the South African election is my longest one yet – it is meant to complete the relevant sections of my incomplete pre-election Guide. Good reading!

Electoral system

I covered South Africa’s political system in extensive detail in the first section of my (unfortunately) incomplete Guide, with details on the electoral system and constitutional framework.

South Africa’s system of government may be defined as being a parliamentary system, but it has elements which make it a hybrid between a parliamentary and presidential system.

The National Assembly, the lower house, is made up of 400 directly-elected MPs who serve a five-year term and are elected by closed-list proportional representation. Voters cast a vote for a party in the national election, but the allocation process once votes have been cast is fairly complex. In theory, half of the seats are filled from regional lists and the other half is filled from a party’s national list, although parties are under no obligation to submit both regional lists and a national list. In the first stage of allocation, the seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region (province), a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the Electoral Commission determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region. To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level, to obtain the number of regional list seats allocated to each party.

The second stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the National Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is again determined by dividing the total number of votes cast across the nation by the number of seats in the National Assembly, plus one. The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of seats in the National Assembly, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.

The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party’s list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

The upper house, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is made up of 90 members, with each of South Africa’s nine provinces sending a single delegation made up of ten members. Six of the ten delegates are ‘permanent delegates’, serving for the duration of the legislature and elected by the provincial legislatures, proportionally in accordance to the strength of the parties represented in the provincial legislature. The other four delegates are ‘special delegates’ – the provincial Premier, and three other special delegates elected by the provincial legislature, again proportionally to each party’s strength. The special delegates rotate based on the matter being discussed by the NCOP. According to the Constitution, while the National Assembly “is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people” (Section 42.3), the NCOP represents the provinces, “to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government” (Section 42.4).

Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, the NCOP’s members vote as delegations, with each province having one vote and the vote is carried with five provinces voting in favour. Legally, a delegation must vote in accordance with a mandate approved by the provincial legislature it represents. On ordinary bills not affecting the provinces, the NCOP votes individually, each delegate having one vote.

The National Assembly has full legislative powers on most matters, and its members as well as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, may introduce any piece of legislation. The NCOP considers ordinary bills not affecting the provinces and it may approve it, amend it or reject it but the National Assembly can pass the bill again with a regular majority. The NCOP has significant power on legislation affecting the provinces (Section 76 bills), with the power to introduce a certain category of such legislation (Section 76.3 bills) and it must approve all Section 76 bills. If there is a disagreement on a Section 76 bill, it is sent to a Mediation Committee which then produces a compromise bill which is sent to both houses; if that bill has originated in the National Assembly, the National Assembly has the power to override NCOP opposition and the Mediation Committee (but with a two-thirds majority). The NCOP must also approve some constitutional amendments (amendments to Chapter 1, the Bill of Rights or any amendment dealing with the NCOP or provinces), in such cases, the amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly (three-fourths for amendments to Chapter 1) and the support of six out of nine provinces in the NCOP.

The President of South Africa is the head of state and government and is elected by the members of the National Assembly at its first sitting. The President may not serve more than two terms, and he may be removed from office with a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly (for ‘a serious violation of the Constitution or the law’, ‘serious misconduct’ and ‘inability to perform the functions of office’). The National Assembly may pass, with a regular majority, a motion of no confidence in the President. If carried, the entire cabinet and the President must resign. The President assents to and signs bills, refers bills to the National Assembly for reconsideration (if he/she so chooses) and chooses members of the cabinet.

South Africa has nine provinces with significant devolved powers and their own provincial legislatures and Premier, a framework similar to that of the national government (except that legislatures are unicameral). The provincial legislatures, which consist of between 30 and 80 members – the exact nu